Through a long process of maturing in Their Eyes Were Watching God, the protagonist Janie Crawford gains self-confidence as she grows from an immature adolescent into a middle-aged woman. Along the way, through being married three times to three very different men, she learns to take care of other people as well as herself. Finally, after she buries her last, and deeply beloved, husband, Tea Cake, Janie learns how to live independently rather than as part of a married couple.
When the teenage Janie begins to think of taking independent actions, her grandmother puts a stop to such desires by insisting that she marry a much older man. Both in Nanny’s household and while married to Logan, Janie becomes accustomed to serving the older generation but resents this enforced dependency.
Janie imagines that by running off with Joe “Jody” Starks and starting a new life in a new community, she will find fulfillment. She mixes up sexual desire with overall happiness and satisfaction. Unprepared for Jody’s selfishness, belittling, and jealousy, Janie’s resentment grows. Ironically, it is through caring for Jody in his final illness that she learns how generosity and compassion contribute to her fulfillment.
Although Janie’s last marriage, to Vergible “Tea Cake” Woods, is truly happy, that happiness is partly based on the heavy value she places on being part of a couple. She does not part from Tea Cake willingly, but finds herself in the horrible position of seeing no choice but to kill him when rabies makes him deranged. After this tragic incident, in part because she had experienced the marriage she wanted, she no longer believes that she requires a partner to be complete. She returns to Eatonville to live as an independent woman.