What is the most important lesson Janie learns over the course of Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, and how does she learn it?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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It can be said that the greatest thing Janie has learned throughout Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God is about her true self, and part of who she is is a storyteller.

From a young age, other peoples' desires for her life have been imposed on her. She was raised by her grandmother, called Nanny Crawford, and Nanny wants nothing more for Janie than to live a protected, prosperous life. Hence, as soon as Janie turns 16, Nanny marries her to Logan Killicks even though Janie doesn't feel ready. While Logan is a hardworking farmer, he is also abusive towards Janie. Hence, her Nanny's dream for her becomes an imposition and a form of oppression. Janie escapes this oppression by next marrying the ambitious Jody Starks who becomes mayor of an all African-American town. However, when Janie wants a more participatory role in the town, even to be among the folks sharing stories, Jody forbids it, showing he really only wants her to be a trophy of his success. Jody's treatment of her becomes more and more oppressive until he is soon abusive as well. Of all her husbands, Vergible Woods, nicknamed Tea Cake, a blues musician and migrant farm laborer, is the only one who encouraged her to be herself. Through Tea Cake, she gets to do whatever she wants, such as work along side him the fields, and socialize with ordinary folks.

The book is told as one long flashback narration as Janie tells her story to her longtime friend Phoebe. It's through telling her story that Janie finally fulfills her true desires. As Edwidge Danticat states in the book's forward, by the end of the book, "She has told her story and has satisfied 'that oldest human longing--self-revelation'" (xxi). Hence, by the end of the book, what Janie has learned is to find and be herself and to tell her own story.

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