In Their Eyes Were Watching God, what are the differences between the language of the men and that of women?
The most important passage in this entire novel that is relevant to language and the way in which men and women communicate, actually occurs in the first two paragraphs of the novel. This expresses the difference in language between the genders as follows:
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.
The novel begins with the key idea that men and women are profoundly different. Here, the narrator suggests that actually the difference between men and women means that they are dependent on each other for certain things. Janie therefore searches throughout the novel for a man who can provide her with the things that she lacks, and her three husbands likewise try to have their needs met by their relationsihp with Janie.
This opening passage also identifies the way in which men and women use language and think about dreams. The passage points to the ultimate futility of men trying to capture their dreams. Women, however, are able to use their powerful will to chase their dream and to pursue their goals in life. Language is a reflection of this approach to dreams and is a key theme in the novel, as Janie learns how to express herself through both speech and silence in ways that allow her to form her own identity and strive to achieve her dreams.