Analyze how Janie's tension between outward conformity and inward questioning contributes to the work in Their Eyes Were Watching God.So this is pretty much the gist of what my essay prompt is...

Analyze how Janie's tension between outward conformity and inward questioning contributes to the work in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

So this is pretty much the gist of what my essay prompt is asking. I have the idea of writing three body paragraphs: each one about one of the husbands and their effect on Janie's personality, like Logan treated her like a princess at first and then started bossing her around; Jody talked for her and never shut up; then how Tea Cake actually talked to Janie and stuff. Does that sound like it could turn into a full four page essay?

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creativethinking eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tension between outward conformity and inward questioning is the very heart of Their Eyes Were Watching God, as Janie's character's iconic status comes from her journey of self-actualization. In layman's terms, that means that Janie transforms over the course of the novel from someone that others want her to be to the person that she truly is. In order to do this, she needs to overcome pressures not only from her husband(s), but also the expectations of society.

Displaying outward conformity, or the apparent appeasement of what society views as ideal, is how Janie spends much of her adulthood. Her grandmother expects her to marry young and become an obedient housewife. She conforms, and does it, even though all the while she is troubled by the fact that she's not feeling love in this union. She continually questions and eventually leaves this situation, but only with Killicks' apathetic blessing.

She thinks she's escaping into love when she runs off with Jody, but this is where conformity sucks Janie into its seductive vortex. Power, money, status--all these are Jody's pursuit. And while he dresses up Janie like a doll, he erases her independence in the process. She endures this for years, but all the while questions where her true soul lies. The eNotes character analysis of Janie reminds us:

Stifled by Jody and cut off from the rest of the community by her status as the mayor's wife, she learns to hide her real self and wear a mask for Jody and the town that conforms to their expectations for her. But in the process she loses sight of the real self she has buried. The narrator tells us, "She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew not how to mix them."

The kerchief that Jody forces Janie to wear suppresses the appearance of her youth, her sexuality, her individuality, and any outward sign of being anything other than an extension of Jody (who, as the mayor, is the embodiment of Janie's controlling community). As Jody weakens and dies, Janie again summons the strength to speak her mind and lay out exactly how she feels about the way he's treated her, which surprises and enrages Jody.

By pairing up with Tea Cake after Jody passes, Janie resists the community's expectations as they gossip about what she wears, what she does, when she does it, and the fact that she's spending so much suspicious time with a lower class, younger male. In this relationship, she starts to pull away from conforming to others' ideas of what's appropriate. As explained in the "Search for Self" title in the Themes section of the eNotes study guide, though, "some critics see Tea Cake as another obstacle to Janie's development." This makes sense when one considers the illogical nature of "finding yourself" through a relationship with a significant other. The tension between expectation and Janie's own convictions finally snaps in her final interaction with Tea Cake, where she's forced to choose between obedient devotion and the preservation of her own life. By killing him, she cuts herself free from the pressure to conform to what he, or anyone else, expects her to be. (Still, Tea Cake is even intertwined in this action; ironically, it is he that taught her to use a gun in the first place.)

 Good luck with your essay. A helpful hint: since your topic is about Janie's inner tension, don't forget to make it about her experience of the three relationships rather than simply summarizing how each man treats her.

Read the study guide:
Their Eyes Were Watching God

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