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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How does Hurston utilize the settings of Eatonville and Everglades in Their Eyes Were Watching God to illustrate Janie’s quest for self-empowerment?

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After Janie Crawford’s first marriage to Logan Killicks becomes unendurable drudgery, she leaves him for Joe Starks . Her second husband is intent on becoming a successful businessman and influential politician in the new African American community that is Eatonville. The bright beginning among the optimistic townspeople contrasts strongly...

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After Janie Crawford’s first marriage to Logan Killicks becomes unendurable drudgery, she leaves him for Joe Starks. Her second husband is intent on becoming a successful businessman and influential politician in the new African American community that is Eatonville. The bright beginning among the optimistic townspeople contrasts strongly to the brutal demands of farm labor. Later, the Everglades setting will contrast the forces of nature with the civilizing process of town building.

Janie begins to develop as a distinctive individual during the years she spends with Joe, but this growth largely occurs despite rather than because of his efforts. As his wife, Janie finds that he not only has rigid expectations of her behavior but is also overly concerned about public opinion. His repressive actions extend both to voice and vision: Joe tries to make her silent and unseen. Janie is highly conscious of his tactics, however, and she gains not just the jealousy but also the respect of community members in her own right, not as an appendage of a powerful man. The reader sees her generosity, strength, and dignity when Joe falls ill and she takes care of him.

The Everglades setting is also rural rather than urban, but it is different both from Logan’s farm and Eatonville. The land seems not just untamed but untameable, and it demands a superhuman effort to wrest a life from it. Janie’s development includes her first experiences of sexual fulfillment with her third spouse, Tea Cake. The sexual energy generated between them seems to correspond with the efforts they expend on wresting a living from the mud. Just as it seems that she is again trapped by a physically abusive partner, the natural forces intervene to turn her world upside down. The powerful force of the hurricane is equated with Janie’s full maturity, which comes at the price of taking another person’s life.

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