Describe Janie's relationship with each of her three husbands as it relates to her quest for her truest self.

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, the protagonist, Janie, marries three men and learns about herself and what she wants from life from each of these relationships.

Janie's first marriage, to Logan Killicks, is not one she enters by choice. Her grandmother arranges the match without Janie's consent; her motivation is security. Nanny is worried once Janie kisses Johnny Taylor over the fence and feels the need to marry her off before she makes any poor decisions. Nanny was a slave, so her highest priority is financial security. Logan has a farm and land, so he seems a suitable spouse; however, he is much older than Janie and she does not love him. Nanny assures her love is not that important and that it will grow over time. Unfortunately, Janie finds this to not be true. She does not enjoy being simply a hand on the farm; she feels no romantic connection with Logan and is depressed and unsatisfied.

When Joe/Jody Starks comes through town and sweet-talks Janie, she is easily won over. She thinks he is her vision of the pear tree come true (the pear tree scene earlier in the novel symbolizes Janie's conception of true love). Janie runs away with Joe, expecting to have a wonderful, romantic marriage to a man who truly values her as a woman and as a wife. However, once Joe becomes mayor of Eatonville, he places Janie on a pedestal and becomes jealous. He wants her separated from the rest of the town; she cannot participate in community storytelling or games or jokes. She must tie her hair up in a scarf so other men cannot see it. Janie resents Joe for this treatment and is not sorry when he dies. She gets a sizable inheritance, which gives her freedom and independence.

Finally, Janie meets Tea Cake after her marriage with Joe has ended. Tea Cake is a younger man and is playful and fun. He and Janie have a more casual relationship and a more equal partnership. He plays checkers with her and they eventually go to the Everglades to work the muck side-by-side. This is different from her marriage with Logan because she wants to work with him, and it wasn't the central expectation of the relationship. Janie and Tea Cake seem to have a mostly strong marriage, but he does beat her to prove himself in the community.

However, their relationship ends tragically. Tea Cake contracts rabies when saving Janie from a rabid dog during the hurricane. She eventually must shoot him to protect herself. After she is declared not-guilty in a trial, Janie returns to Eatonville with her hair swinging down and wearing overalls. She does not care what the townsfolk think of her; she is truly her own woman now. She goes to Pheoby, her best friend, and relates her life story (which is the novel); ultimately, Janie is now living for herself. Through her marriages, she has found true love but also learned the flaws that can destroy romantic relationships. She is comfortable in her own skin now.

sdchumley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Janie wants to find her true self through finding true love -- the love she believes the union of the bee and the flower represent (10-11). Her grandmother believes a woman simply needs protection and a guaranteed livelihood, something Logan Killicks can provide. Janie thinks she will find love with Logan and so she marries him, waiting for "love to begin" (21). Logan's "love" is a lonely one, and Janie sees this is not the type of woman/self she wants to be. When Jody arrives and flirts with her, calling her a "pretty doll baby" (28), she realizes he does "not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees" (28), but he does offer her to possibility of further self-discovery. She marries Joe and continues on her journey.

With Joe, she initially enjoys the pedestal upon which he places her, but she soon discovers he is no better than Logan. Joe want to rule her and treats her as a possession. She begins, though, to realize she wants to be her own person, and eventually, she makes her stand, talking back to Joe in front of the townsmen, telling him he "look[s] lak de change uh life" (75).

After Joe dies, Janie truly becomes her own woman, not caring what the rest of the town thinks. When she meets Tea Cake, she finds a man who lets her be herself, a man who is looking for a partner instead of a subordinate. Tea Cake treats Janie as an equal, and so her journey to her truest self is realized.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

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