Society's expectations deeply affect Janie, the protagonist of Their Eyes Were Watching God . In a very general sense, she is subject to the judgments and biases of American society as an African American woman. More specifically, she must contend with the expectations of her grandmother (Nanny), her husbands, and...
As a young woman, Janie is married off by Nanny to an older man, Logan Killicks, for security. Janie seeks romance, and she is sorely disappointed that she does not find it with her husband. Nanny, a former slave, thinks that having a stable life and owning some land is the best future for Janie; therefore, Janie's adult life begins as a direct result of Nanny's expectations.
Once Janie grows increasingly unhappy in her marriage to Logan, she is tempted to leave by Joe Starks, who passes through her town. She defies expectations by leaving her husband, but once she is in Eatonville, the town where her husband Joe will be mayor, she becomes subject to a whole new set of expectations. As the mayor's wife, she is placed on a sort of pedestal where her behavior is regulated strictly by her husband and watched closely by her community. She works in the town store but is forbidden to partake in the chatter and joking that make the scene so lively. Joe makes Janie tie her hair up, as well, so that she does not attract the attention of other men. Joe expects Janie to be who he wants her to be and he treats her as an object. Janie resents Joe, and they live in mutual hatred until Joe's death.
After Joe dies, Janie again defies the expectations of her community by starting a relationship with a younger man named Tea Cake. The two have a playful relationship in which Janie feels she is treated more like an equal. Tea Cake is not perfect, and he too later succumbs to societal expectations when he beats Janie in the Everglades to prove to the community that he controls his wife. After killing Tea Cake in self-defense, Janie returns to Eatonville wearing overalls and with her hair hanging down her back in a long braid. She no longer cares about the judgment of the community. Social expectations no longer affect Janie's sense of self.