Their Eyes Were Watching God Questions and Answers
by Zora Neale Hurston

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What is the main theme or message of the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God?

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Cleveland Goodman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God is such a rich novel that there is no one main theme or message.  Rather, the book is ripe with multiple life lessons. However, one of the central themes focuses on the idea of self-actualization.

Throughout the novel, Janie looks outside of herself for fulfillment. She grows up under the care of her grandmother, a woman who was born into slavery and now looks for little more than security. She pushes Janie into a marriage with Logan Killicks , an older farmer who can provide Janie with a place to live and enough to live in semi-comfort. Janie hopes that this marriage will lead her to the happiness she desires, that she will eventually fall in love with Logan, but things quickly change as he soon expects her to work much harder than she believes she should have to. As their marriage continues to decline, she meets a man named Jody Starks who “spoke for far horizon.” Jody is a go-getter; he has big plans to transform a small black...

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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.