In one way or another, every person has felt repressed at some stage during their lives. Their Eyes Were Watching God is a story about one woman's quest to free herself from repression and explore her own identity; this is the story of Janie Crawford and her journey for self-knowledge and fulfillment. Janie transforms many times as she undergoes the process of self-discovery as she changes through her experiences with three completely different men. Her marriages serve as stepping-stones in her search for her true self, and she becomes independent and powerful by overcoming her fears and learning to speak in her own, unique voice.
Zora Neale Hurston effectively shows Janie's transformation throughout the book by means of language and her development of Janie's voice through the different stages of her life. Her use of free indirect discourse exemplifies Janie's power in overcoming oppression, realizing her own potential, and emerging as an individual. Throughout the novel, Hurston's use of the black dialect in the form of quoted text, and Standard English in the form of third person unquoted text, creates a seamless, fluid narration which provides insight into Janie's soul on two levels.
Through the combination of these two languages, Hurston is able to effectively express Janie's inner and outer voices, which become stronger throughout the novel, as she develops through a series of relationships and acquires greater self-identity. Before Janie's marriages, she lacks a sense of identity, which Hurston reveals early in the novel. The scene where she is shown a photograph of her and with "white family" symbolizes her lack of self-knowledge - she does not even recognize herself in the picture, because she does not even know she is black.
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Janie's first movement toward self-awareness occurs shortly thereafter, when she becomes fascinated by the blooming of leaf buds under the pear tree. Here, Hurston uses the third-person narrative in a speaker's voice that invites the reader into Janie's soul. For example, the narrative voice portraying the "pear tree" incident seems to have a nature somewhat intimate to Janie's: the rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her consciousness. 24). Hurston brilliantly combines an intimate voice with the omniscience of a third-person narrator for a vivid denotation of the beginning of Janie's maturity and the initial stage in her development as a woman; she creates a powerful description of a young girl's sexual awakening. However, just as Janie is emerging as an individual and as a woman, her self-discovery is crippled by Nanny's fear of this maturity. Nanny desires to marry Janie off as soon as possible, so that she is protected in a financially secure, yet loveless, marriage so that Nanny passes on with the assurance that Janie is provided for and is materially taken care of.
Therefore, she arranges for Janie to marry Logan Killicks, a wealthy landowner, who becomes rude and possessive, and begins treating Janie like an object. This oppressive relationship hinders Janie's quest for self-knowledge; her images of love and marriage as she envisioned under the beautiful blossoming pear tree are dashed by the harsh realities of her loveless marriage to Logan. Janie's first marriage and its failure are beginning stages of her seach for self-fulfillment; her voice and identity are still undefined, and she does not progress in her self-development until she becomes free of Logan's restraint.
Both the black vernacular and the third-person narrative are used to describe Janie's feelings about her marriage to Logan and her decision to break free of him. First, we learn of Janie's disillusionment about her prearranged marriage from the dialogue between Janie and Nanny when Janie goes to her seeking advice and instructions on how to love: “. . . you told me Ah wus gointer love him, and, and Ah don't. Maybe if somebody was to tell me how, Ah could do it. ” (41) Janie's voice shows naivete and lacks sensibility and she actually thought she would begin to love Logan simply as a result of her being married to him.
When she realizes this is not the case, her first dream dies, and she must move forward in her journey to find her soul. Hurston then returns to the third-person narrative to present Janie's thoughts upon her decision to leave Logan and run away with Joe Starks. Interestingly, however, her feelings are relayed in a speakerly text remarkably similar to Janie's own voice: A feeling of sudden newness and change came over her. Janie hurried out of the front gate and turned south. Even if Joe was not there waiting for her, the change was bound to do her good . . From now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom. Her old thoughts were going to come in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them. (54). This voice shows stronger self-determination and is more recognizable as Janie's voice than earlier text, evidence that Janie's outer voice, in the form of Hurston's speakerly text grows in conjunction with her inner voice as she journeys through stages of development.
In other words, the more Janie's voice and identity are defined, the stronger her third-person narrative voice becomes, and the more one sees resembles between the speakerly text and Janie's inner consciousness. Janie's courageous break from Logan marks a new stage in her development; accordingly, her self-identity is more defined through the text, and her voice becomes stronger. Hurston continues to develop Janie's voice through her depiction of Janie's marriage to Joe. In one scene, Hurston’s use of language and its power in expressing Janie's inner feelings is that in which Mayor Starks erects a new street lamp for the town.
Janie and her husband first speak to each other using the recognizable black dialect of the region: "Well, honey, how yuh like bein' Mrs. Mayor? " "It's all right Ah reckon, but don't yuh think it keeps us in a kinda strain? " (74). The omniscient third-person narrator then captures Janie's feelings about the prospect of her new life as one of her husband's showpieces, like his new street lamp, in standard English: [a] feeling of coldness and fear took hold of her. She felt far away and lonely. Janie soon began to feel the impact of awe and envy against her, sensibilities.
The wife of the Mayor was not just another woman as she supposed. She slept with authority and so she was part of it in the town mind. (74). She begins to realize that, although Joe offered her wealth in terms of material possessions and social status, he, like Logan, left her in utter spiritual poverty, thus ends another dream and another crush in Janie's self-development. Janie spent several years married to Jody in this state of turmoil, but slowly begins to break out of the clay shell that Starks has been molding her into.
In time, her voice becomes more and more powerful, and Hurston develops this voice with both the speakerly text and the black dialect. An occasion where Janie enters the domain of men and contumaciously speaks her mind is when the men are discussing their occasional need to beat their women to keep them in line. They complain that they are hard to hit because they are too soft, "just like... baby chickens. " Neither Joe nor the other men expect the brave response from Janie: Sometimes God git familiar wid us womenfolks too and talks His inside business. He told me how surprised He was 'bout y'all urnin' out so smart after Him makin' yuh different; and how surprised y'all is goin' tuh be if you ever find out you don't know half as much 'bout us as you think you do. It's so easy to make yo'self out God Almighty when you ain't got nothin' tuh strain against but women and chickens. (117) Janie's speech is significant because she defies her husband and the rest of the men by entering into and becoming a master of their domain by courageously speaking out against them. She is learning to recognize and express her own opinions, but, nevertheless, is reprimanded for doing so.
Joe tells her she is "gettin' too moufy" and proceeds to make commands upon her and treat her like his possession. Yet Janie stays and puts up with him because, at this point in her expedition, she is not strong enough to leave him and find herself. Hurston again returns to the third-person narrative in a passage that exhibits Janie's search for self-identity: [t]he years took all the flight out of Janie's face. For a while she thought it was gone from her soul. No matter what Jody did, she said nothing. She had learned how to talk some and leave some.
She was a rut in the road. (118). Though Janie becomes defiant and gains a stronger voice during her twenty-year marriage to Joe, she is still "stuck in a rut," because she does not acquire the power to leave him, which obstructs her path to self-contentment. Janie's marriage to Joe served only as a median in her search for self-knowledge and soul; it was during this marriage that she found her voice and began to speak her mind, despite Joe's oppression. However, it was not until after his death that she was able to get past this middle stage in her self-fulfillment.
To appease the townspeople, Janie pretended to mourn when Joe died, but not for long; she met Teacake and found true love. Her marriage to Teacake marks the next phase in Janie's exploration of her soul and development of her voice. Whereas her first two husbands deprived her of her voice and thought her "inarticulate," Teacake gave Janie the freedom to be her own individual, and to speak her own mind. It was her love and appreciation for Teacake that enabled her to reach this level in her search for self-identity, and her voice continues to increase in power.
The double-voiced nature of free indirect discourse enables Hurston to illuminate Janie's feelings toward Teacake and the strength of her voice. First, Hurston provides direct discourse in the form of colloquial black dialogue between Phoeby and Janie, when Janie defends herself against Phoeby's admonitions to "be keerful 'bout this sellin' out and goin' off wid strange men . . . ". She informs her friend that she has already decided to marry Teacake, stating that she is "ready and willin' tuh try 'im. " Janie now trusts her own feelings and judgment, so she declines advice from Phoeby and others.
She concludes her conversation with Phoeby with the self-empowering determination that she can choose her own destiny: [d]is ain't no business proposition, and no race after property and titles. Dis is uh love game. Ah done lived Grandma's way, now Ah means tuh live mine. " (171). Janie's strength intensely show through in her voice - a far cry from earlier in the novel when she wanted somebody to teach her how to love Logan. Later, after Janie and Teacake are married, they decide to work together down on the muck with him where ". . . folks don't do nothin' . . . but make money and fun and foolishness. Hurston uses the speakerly voice to powerfully express Janie's love for Teacake and the affect he has on her personal growth: He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place. (192). Janie now has a clear sense of her essence and has attained personal gratification, and the reader can recognize her spirited voice from this third-person narrative. In the remaining chapters, Hurston uses much free indirect discourse to depict Janie's growth in individuality and voice as a result of her marriage to Teacake.
For example, also stated in Hurston's speakerly text: [t]he men held big arguments like they used to do on the store porch. Only here, she could listen and laugh and even talk some herself if she wanted to. She got so she could tell big stories herself from listening to the rest. (200). At last, Janie has a voice of her own and has found happiness in her life with Teacake. He was the catalyst to her inner blooming; he has an open mind and a free spirit that allows Janie to escape oppression and begin speaking for herself.
Janie's relationship with Teacake marks the penultimate stage in the process of Janie's individual growth; it is not the final step. The ultimate step occurs after Teacakes dies and Janie returns home. Although Teacake aided Janie in her growth, he was not to be a permanent part of her life. After his death, Janie ends up alone, but with a wealth of experience and a self-realization which finally bring her contentment. The reader can relate to Janie's voice and shares in her triumph at the end of the novel, where Hurston once again uses free indirect discourse to tap into Janie's soul.
First, in Janie's own voice, she sums up her story to Phoeby, stating, [n]ow, dat's how everything wuz, Pheoby, jus lak Ah told yuh. So Ah'm back home agin and Ah'm satisfied tuh be heah. Ah done been tuh de horizon and back now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons. (284). Finally, after having been to the "horizon and back," Janie's quest for self-knowledge and independence is successful, and she is now satisfied with her life. Then, the novel ends in the third-person narrative voice, and that voice clearly represents Janie's own thoughts: She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net.
Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes. She called in her soul to come and see. (286). Unlike earlier dialogue and narrative, Janie's voice strongly reveals contentment and self-identity. These final lines, though not in the black vernacular, are clearly Janie's true inner feelings. In the end, it is evitable that Janie has come to know her soul through her voice. Hurston's mastery of language throughout Their Eyes Were Watching God amplifies Janie's voice as she victors over oppression and progresses through various stages of self-development.
She empowers herself and all women when she tells her story, but she cautions that every woman must fight the battle herself: you got tuh go there tuh know there... [t]wo things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves. (285). Well, Janie certainly found out about living for herself, and after all of the experiences she went through in her life, she finally found peace with herself in the end.
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