In Their Eyes Were Watching God, how do the motifs of speech and silence interact?

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litelle209 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The novel can be read as the protagonist's attempt to find a voice, to speak for herself. While speaking is active participation in determining the course of events, silence is not necessarily the opposite, but can perhaps be viewed as a deliberate unwillingness to speak. But there is also the motif of being silenced. The conflict of being silenced by another is most aptly illustrated in the relationship between Janie and her husband Jody. Janie leaves Jody because he repeatedly silences her, while Tea Cake engages her in conversation. For instance, as Jody's power increases ( he is named mayor), he actively silences her by forbidding her to talk. Janie's imposed silence increases his power; his wife is ornamental and decorates him through her silence. In this instance silence functions as a tool of gaining self awareness for Janie. While she is silenced by her husband, she also becomes increasingly aware of her need for expression through speech. Speech also defines identity. When Tea Cake becomes ill after being bitten by the dog and lays dying in the house, Janie begins to defy him. While this scene is problematic, one way to read it could be that he is loosing his identity, his power to articulate himself based on reason, and is no longer able to fulfill Janie's need. This reading is possible if we put our notions of romantic love aside for a moment and look at the scene in terms of the power of language. Since the love for Tea Cake is based on the expression through language and the growth Janie experiences, the love dwindles with the disappearance of language. But Tea Cake has also been instrumental in bringing Janie to a place of wholeness where she is able to fully speak for herself, which is where she is when he dies. This is perhaps his function as a character. The novel vacillates between silence and speaking, but the road to self- fulfillment through language is always forward for Janie.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

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