This is an interesting question, given the way in which Zora Neale Hurston organizes Their Eyes Were Watching God. The book itself begins where it ends; the story of Janie's growth and discovery is framed by her return to one of the places that she lived in her life. So, essentially, Janie feels very differently about her role when the book begins and when her story begins. If we look at this literally and talk about the way that Janie feels about her role in the town when the actual book begins, she is a mature, confident woman, and she doesn't really care much at all about what the other people in the town think. She says as much to her best friend Phoeby. When Phoeby wonders what she will tell people about where she has been, Janie replies, "Ah don't mean to bother wid tellin' 'em, nothin', Phoeby. 'Tain't worth de trouble" (6). She goes on to add "To start off wid, people like dem wastes up too much time puttin' they mouf on things they don't know nothin' about" (6).
However, if we look at the way that younger Janie feels about her role in the town when the story she tells to Phoebe begins, Janie is far less sure of herself, and she basically lives by the rules her grandmother sets forth. Deep inside, she longs for a strong connection to someone else who understands the transcendental feelings within her. Her inability to find this someone sends her through a number of marriages that make her second guess herself. Eventually, all of Janie's experiences help her to grow into the confident, self-realized woman that the reader meets at the start of the book.