Illustration of the profile of Janine Crawford and another person facing each other

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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Consider the following statement: “Negative experiences, as well as positive ones, strengthen us and can help us become the person we are meant to be.” Do you think this is a theme of the novel? Why or why not? Explain your answer using textual evidence.

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One could certainly argue that negative experiences in life shape individuals into whom they become.

Janie Crawford is a woman whose romantic life has been tumultuous, to say the least. After the abusive and boring Jody’s death, Janie finds herself independent for the first time in over two decades. Free from the restrictive confines of marriage to a man who dictated her every move, Janie decided to do as she pleases without caring how the people of Eatonville will react.

After marrying the younger, poorer Tea Cake, Janie runs off to live a life of uncertain adventure. The biggest negative experience that shapes Janie’s life is, of course, her decision to shoot Tea Cake. Faced with the dilemma to either kill him or be killed, Janie has to shoot her husband.

Eatonville’s gossips suspect that Tea Cake stole Janie’s money and left her. Janie tells the true story to Phoebe throughout the text. In the end, Janie relates a powerful lesson she has learned through her experiences:

"It’s uh known fact, Pheoby, you got tuh go there to know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh deyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves."

This shows that Janie discovered that she must take destiny into her own hands rather that waiting around for things to happen to her. Without the suffering she experienced after Tea Cake’s death, Janie might not have come to the same conclusion.

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