Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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

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Kale Emmerich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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 life.

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...

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ktyszkie | Student

"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation . . . That is the life of men. Now, women forget all the things they don't want to remember and remember all the things they don't want to forget" (1). This is how Hurston opens her novel. It is important to note the difference she is drawing between men and the horizon, and women and the horizon. She later states in the second paragraph that for women "the dream is the truth" (1). Therefore, for women they can make the horizon the way the dream it - they create their own reality.

Later in the novel when she meets Joe Starks, who will become her second husband, she is disappointed that he “did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon” (29). Therefore, the horizon is not what is most important to her – rather it is the pear tree symbol (introduced in Chapter Two) that she seeks. She settles for the horizon. At the end of the novel after she has had three husbands (left one, and buried two) the narrator poetically states that “she pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net” (193). Her life has been woven into the horizon which she now wears as a shawl. By gathering it in from the “waist” of the world, she pulls her experiences close to her. Their lessons have provided her an opportunity to blossom, and she gathers them for her soul to see. It is clear that she will root herself in Eatonville with her memories bringing her peace. Reflecting on the events of the novel it might be difficult to understand how these moments could bring her peace. However, when filtered through Hurston’s concept that women do not get discouraged when their dreams (the horizon) die; they only “remember the things they don’t want to forget” (1), it is clear.

As far as each husband broadening her horizon, there is certainly evidence to examine the novel in this way. When she arrives at Logan’s home, she has known little of the world and is exposed to hard work for the first time in her life. Furthermore, she learns that marriage does not create love. Logan’s verbal abuse near the end of their relationship also begins a widening of a violent horizon. Next, she escapes with Joe Starks, who does broaden her horizons a great deal. He elevates her status, introduces her to life in an all black town, and the workings of a store. However, he also widens the array of abuse: not only verbally abusing her but also physically abusing her. With all of the oppression building to a breaking point, Janie eventually finds her public and private voice, standing up to Jody both at the store and in their bedroom as he is dying. Using her voice is a new horizon here.

Finally, Teacake broadens her idea of what a relationship between a man and woman can be. He treats her as an equal, playing checkers with her, teaching her to shoot and fish. Janie even learns a whole new lifestyle “on the muck” and begins working in the fields. This certainly broadens her horizons as she learns more about the world and more about her capabilities, although it cannot be ignored that Teacake too physically abuses Janie teaching her that even while in love one can be abused. Finally, in a critical moment , Janie is able to choose her own life which perhaps shows her horizon at its widest and leads her to speak up in court to further defend her life. Although Janie begins this novel seeking love, it is her ability to understand who she is and to fight for herself without the aid of a man that is the horizon achieved.

kittythyme | Student

To simplify the above, only Tea Cake allowed Janie to truly express herself freely.

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