What is the importance of Janie's return to Eatonville?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Janie's return to Eatonville in "Their Eyes Were Watching God" both lends an irony to the title as well as establishing the conflicts of the novel.  The men and women of Eatonville who watch Janie come down the street, make "burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs," but Janie ignores them and continues to walk to her house.  Unlike them, Janie has been "a delegate to de big 'ssociation of life."  She has truly lived and loved, and realized that "de dream is de truth" while the other women who are envious of her have gone nowhere.  Janie has had her eyes "watching God" and not just her neighbor out of envy.

The conflict established between Janie and others who would have her behave in a certain way is also established in the first chapter.  Thereafter, Janie finds herself struggling to maintain her self-identity in two marriages, one to an old man forced upon her by her grandmother, and another one into which she runs impulsively  in order to escape the first only to be later dominated by her new husband who does not want other men to see the beauty in his wife.  It is not until Tea Cake finds Janie in her husband's store and she goes with him after her husband's death that Janie truly finds herself as a woman fulfilled.

After the death of Tea Cake, Janie returns to Eatonville changed.  She wants the other women to see her and she wants to tell Phoeby her story for "meaning depends upon sharing" as Joseph Conrad wrote.  Janie's independence as a woman requires its telling.


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