Hurston starts her novel by comparing and contrasting how men and women approach life through dreams, goals, and differing life perspectives. She does this with the analogy of life on a ship on the ocean. For example, in her first paragraph, she says that a man seeks his dreams on life's horizons, but eventually, "turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time."
On the other hand, women sees her life's dream as truth, "Then they act and do things accordingly." Therefore, men never realize their dreams and give up, but women dream and make their dreams come true. Throughout the novel, therefore, Hurston shows how Janie strives to realize her dream of finding true love by facing life with strength, courage and on her terms. However, the men in her life succumb to the hardships of life and either give up, don't rise to the occasion, or fail.
Based on the idea that men resign their dreams to life and women don't, Hurston confirms this idea through Janie's experience with her first husband because she leaves him fairly quickly when she realizes that farming life isn't for her; she runs off with Jody, her second husband. The first husband had resigned himself to farming and never searched for a better life.
Next, Hurston contradicts her claim that women do whatever they can to realize their dreams when Janie does not run away from Jody during their 20 years of marriage. In fact, Hurston explains how Janie lets go of pursuing her dreams as follows:
The years took all the fight out of Janie's face ... She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels. Sometimes she stuck out into the future, imagining her life different from what it was. But mostly she lived between her hat and her heels, with her emotional disturbances like shade patterns in woods—come and gone with the sun.
Fortunately, Janie's second husband dies and she meets Tea Cake, who is younger, but full of life and love that she's hungered for. However, her dreams of a life with her true love are complicated because of the hurricane, Tea Cake contracting rabies, and Janie having to kill him to save her own life.