Zora Neale Hurston's underlying theme of self-expression and independence is one that is startling for its day. And, that a young girl with no worldy experience arrives at the realization that she is an emotional slave to the men that she has married is equally unusual. However, this theme underscores Hurston's desire to create, in her own words, "an alternative culture that validated their worth as human beings." And, Hurston contends that black people, while living in the Jim Crow world, could still "attain personal identity by not transcending the culture, but by embracing it."
Clearly, Zora Neale Hurston was much ahead of her time with these motifs. Truly, "their eyes were watching God" and not looking down at the earth as many others did in her era. Hurston and her character Janie knew, in the words of Lord Byron, that a person's "reach should exceed his (her) grasp--Else what's a heaven for?" Hurston's message is an existential one, while at the same time encouraging the belief in one's culture.
The primary theme in the book Their Eyes were Watching God is the search for oneself. Janie grew-up at a time when finding and marrying a man seemed the only means to a woman's happiness. She marries young and does as her grandmother had taught her. She gives up her self in an effort to help her men and to gain self-fulfillment. However, she is not full filled. Both of her husbands limit her opportunity for personal growth.
When Janie finally is on her own, she begins to gain her own sense of value and self-esteem. She operates her own store and no longer cares so much what other think about her. When she meets Tea-Cakes she is ready for the first relationship in which she is as important to herself as the man in her life is.