Illustration of the profile of Janine Crawford and another person facing each other

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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What is the importance of horizons in Their Eyes Were Watching God and how do Janie's partners affect this?

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The idea of the "horizon" in the story Their Eyes Were Watching God is the concept of limitations and boundaries—it's how far a person's life extends. If someone's horizon has expanded, it means they have grown as a person, are more capable, and have more strength and opportunity in their...

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Janie has several relationships, and they all serve to expand her horizon. In her first marriage to Jody, Janie feels trapped and unhappy constantly. She begins to realize that the marriage is worthless and oppressive and that she wants more out of her life than to be trapped with Jody. This helps her gain independence and strength.

In her relationship to Tea Cake, she begins to learn what it means to have a fulfilling relationship and to know someone who takes care of her in spite of what society says. The final sentence of the novel illustrates this because she finally found happiness and satisfaction and grew to be a satisfied, mature woman—and Tea Cake will always be with her, even in his death.

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Janie's first husband is chosen for her. She has little say in the matter of this marriage, and complies with her grandmother out of respect. As she matures, her self-awareness increases, and she finds in Jody-therealization that there is more to life than her own backyard. While her marriage to Jody turns into an empty shell, she gains a backbone, and continues to develop her sense of self Janie and Tea Cake have the closest example of a true partnership. Janie has finally been able to define what a fulfilling relationship should be, and follows her heart-and does not care about the public's perceptions. This is different than her other two marriages. The final sentences are her realization of the journey she has taken, that although Tea Cake died, she achieved her goal of a satisfying relationship-and that he will still be a part of her in spirit.

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What is the importance of the concept of horizon? How do Janie and each of her men widen her horizons? What is the significance of the novel’s final sentences in this regard?

The concept of horizons threads throughout this novel. People look off in the distance to where the sky meets the earth to see a literal horizon. When people think of their own lives, they also see a symbolic horizon where their perceptions, abilities, and experience end. For example, at the beginning of the novel, Janie’s horizon goes as far as expecting to find true love, a love that consists of her being a pear tree “with kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world.”

When Nanny arranges a marriage between Janie and Logan Killicks, Janie hopes that her horizon of true love will come true. However, she soon discovers this is not happening. Janie even tells Nanny,

Maybe if somebody was to tell me how, Ah could do it. (Chapter 3)

Suddenly, Janie’s horizon will not include love that develops simply through marriage.

Janie’s view of her future horizon becomes wider when Joe Starks enters the picture in chapter 4. Janie remembers the fun she seeks in life as Joe convinces her to join him in the adventure of being his wife in Eatonville. With his stylish dress and charming manner, Joe reminds Janie of her desire for an ideal life.

As Janie and Joe make their life together, Janie’s horizon begins to change once again since Joe treats her as a trophy wife who cannot be trusted to think for herself. He even tells her,

Somebody got to think for women and chillun and chicken and cows. (Chapter 6)

Although Janie’s horizon has expanded physically beyond the rural life she had with Nanny and Logan to Eatonville, her notion of love and marriage has again been disappointed.

At this point, in chapter 10, Tea Cake shows up, and once again Janie’s search for true love becomes renewed. Through flirting and teasing, Tea Cake reawakens the desire in Janie to love. Tea Cake is not a man of responsibility like Joe or a man of duty like Logan. Instead, Tea Cake brings fun and love into Janie’s life. Unfortunately, that horizon is covered with the flood waters of a hurricane and then ended with the bite of a rabid dog.

At the very end of the novel, Janie pulls “in the horizon like a great fish-net” (chapter 20). She has realized that Tea Cake and her love for him “could never be dead until she herself had finished thinking and feeling.” In other words, all the horizons of her life are still with her, but especially that of Tea Cake. Perhaps the horizon is not just off in the distance but is actually within one’s soul.

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