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 Janie define love? To develop your argument, consider the following questions: Where do her expectations for love come from? Do you think she is naïve in her expectations? Consider Janie’s three marriages. Do they represent her definition of love? Does she learn anything from the successes and failures in her relationships?

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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie is on a quest for the romantic ideal—an idealized version of love that she believes will make her feel satisfied and whole. Janie wants to be swept off her feet, to feel consumed and satisfied. Her desire for marriage is motivated not by the security and respect it can afford her, but by the idealized love she believes it will bring her. In her first two marriages, however, she learns that marriage does not bring love as she had hoped. When it doesn’t, she feels trapped, oppressed, and unable to bloom into the woman she hoped to become.

Janie’s ideal version of love is born out of innocence and based on equality. She longs for openness and understanding with her lover, but primarily, she longs for the idea of love itself. Thus, the quest for romantic love appears to consume her. To Janie, love is a goal, a state of being that will come to define her as a woman and make her feel whole. And Janie pursues her goal throughout the story. Hurston appears to be saying that African American women deserve to be loved. They deserve to be free, and they deserve to pursue their dreams. Given their historical status as enslaved people, love and freedom have been hard to achieve for African American women as a group.

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