Last Updated 31 Jan 2023

Analysis Contemporary Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God and Development of Main Character

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In the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, readers witness Janie Crawford develop her independence and self-actualization throughout three marriages and many trials. At a young age, Janie dreamed of love. However, after her grandmother thwarted her views, she learned to accept her grandmother's opinions as facts, and become a woman. Hurston portrays the importance of language and the power of speech as Janie begins to realize the value and validity of both her voice and opinions.

The denial and later legitimacy of opinions teach one to trust his or herself. At the start of the novel, with a heart so full of love and a mind full of imagination young Janie spends most of her time gazing upon the first blossom blooming on her pear tree while she envisions the delights marriage will bring. However, when her grandmother confronts her regarding the kiss she shared with a neighbor boy, she becomes aware of the realities of marriage -according to her grandmother- in that marriage does “not make love” (Hurston 25).

Janie’s grandmother, Nanny Crawford, was born into slavery and had certain views on what she wanted her granddaughter to become. While enforcing her own opinion, Nanny denied Janie the right of having her own opinion leading to Janie’s realization of her lack of voice. Janie’s confidence in her power of opinion grows after having shot and killed her husband out of pure self-defense. She fills with relief as she hears the jury deem the death of Vergible Woods (Tea Cake) “accidental and justifiable” (Hurston 188).

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Prior to meeting Tea Cake, Janie became accustomed to having her opinions thrown out the window. Nevertheless, she decided to speak out for her own self and her opinion and the choice she made to shoot Tea Cake was validated by the jury. Janie’s voice had been heard, even in a controversial situation, which propelled her further to understand the importance of holding a powerful voice. Janie’s increase of independence and self-actualization throughout the novel is conveyed by the symbol of her hair. As Janie returns to her previous home in her old town, people straightaway begin to judge her long straight hair hanging down her back “lak some young gal” (Hurston 2). The town makes it obvious that they feel it is unsuitable for a woman of her age to wear her hair down.

However, as she waltzes into town with her hair swinging and head held high, she conveys a strong sense of independence and makes it known that despite society’s absurd opinions, she recognizes her own voice and does not feel anymore that society has control of her speech and actions. Hurston reveals the need to develop an independent voice through Janie’s experience with marriage. Having been forced to wed Logan Killick, Janie begins to feel dispirited at the lack of love within their marriage as Logan constantly chastises her for not taking a “bit of interest” in what he wishes of her (Hurston 30). This shows that Logan believes his wife must hold an interest in whatever interests.

Furthermore, Logan’s actions and words prove that he feels Janie should depend on him, not hold a voice of her own, or do as he pleases. After fleeing from her first marriage, Janie’s second marriage proves to be just as oppressive. When asked by the townspeople to give a speech, Joe starks immediately proclaims that his wife “don’t know nothin’” about delivering a speech (Hurston 43).

The fact that Joe refused to give Janie even a chance to respond manifests to the reader that he assumed she held no power to speak without his permission. The rejection of one's ability to speak for his or herself leads to a lack of confidence in oneself. On the contrary, Janie’s third and final husband brings her to independence and shows her the validity of her voice. When asked to play checkers, Janie expresses that she had never been taught, to which Tea Cake then proclaims that this will be the final day “for dat excuse” (Hurston 95).

This small encounter conveys that Tea cake felt it a normality for her to play, despite being a female and constantly rejected a voice. Hurston conveys that from that day forward there will be no more excuses as to why Janie cannot do something: her voice will be heard. Furthermore, everyone should have the opportunity to have their voice heard. Hurston shows Janie’s gradual permission to speak in order to encourage women to gain a voice. When Nanny Crawford regarded Janie’s views as inaccurate, she began to assume that if her grandmother had voiced it, “it must be so” (Hurston 21).

Since her voice had been so quickly silenced, she was forced to follow as her grandmother said, leading to an unhappy marriage. If Janie had continued to express her desires and further enforced her opinion, she would not have found herself trapped in confinement. Even so, the fear of not holding adequate power to speak out holds many people back from expressing their own voice. Janie begins developing her strength of speaking her mind regardless of the shock of others. When Janie becomes sick of Joe hurling insults at her she musters up the strength to speak her mind and tears down his “empty armor before men” (Hurston 79).

In order to stand up for oneself, he or she must have the ability to speak up. In spite of being told her whole life that her voice was unimportant, Janie found the capability to ensure that her voice rang loud and clear and would not go unheard again. As Janie returns back to town, Pheoby immediately recognizes that Janie “held the oldest human longing” which she reveals as “self-revelation” (Hurston 7). Janie has acquired a revelation of her own thoughts and feelings, and she no longer cares for the opinions brought by the people around her.

Even Phoeby shows shock that Janie now speaks with such confidence and shows an eagerness to feel as she does. Hurston reveals this encounter to the readers in order to show the importance of gaining a voice and influencing those around oneself to find themselves. After enduring many trials and searching to find love within marriage Janie develops the ability to recognize her importance. Hurston conveys the importance of language and the power of speech as Janie realizes the value and validity of both her voice and opinions.

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