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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Joe Starks

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Last Updated on April 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 463

Extended Character Analysis

Joe “Jody” Starks is Janie’s second husband, whom she meets during her unfulfilling first marriage to Logan Killicks. Janie is drawn to Joe because he is able to offer her what she desires, including adventure, riches, and prosperity.

When Joe and Janie run off to Eatonville, the first all-Black town, Joe wants to “be a big voice” and make a big impression on the townspeople. At first, he is loved by the community. He is ambitious and business-minded. Shortly after arriving in town, he opens a grocery store and is elected mayor. However, he soon starts to lose his social standing. As a result, Joe begins to neglect Janie. During the opening of the grocery store, Joe forbids Janie from speaking because he does not believe women should be heard publicly. He relegates her to a position where she acts as his “pretty doll-baby.” Joe becomes possessive of Janie and commands her in all aspects of her life, prohibiting her from socializing with customers at the grocery store and forcing her to tie her hair up in a rag because he is jealous of the attention other men give Janie. Joe becomes bitter and resentful of Janie’s beauty while he grows older and more frail. The townspeople begin to grow wary of him because they believe he is acting more authoritatively.

After several years of marriage, Joe hits Janie for the first time, and Janie expresses that she no longer loves him. Their marriage becomes filled with resentment and acridity. When Joe insults Janie’s body, she retaliates and shames him in front of the townspeople, saying “When you pull down yo’ britches, you look lak de change uh life.” Due in part to this public humiliation, as well as kidney failure, Jody becomes ill and bedridden. Paranoid and bitter, he believes Janie poisoned him. Until his dying breath, he continues their “futile fight,” chastising and insulting Janie.

Although initially in love with one another, Joe and Janie cannot reconcile their failed marriage. Joe controls Janie in all aspects of her life, and Janie does not have the bravery to confront him until he is close to death due to kidney failure. When she finally does, Joe and Janie speak candidly. Joe does not apologize; rather, he claims that Janie is unsympathetic to his condition. Janie tells him that he is cruel and that he never listened to her. Joe dies a painful, lonely death and leaves Janie with a moderate inheritance. When Janie reflects back on her life, she does not remember their union in a positive light. Nevertheless, their marriage is an important stage in Janie’s formative years. Joe’s domineering control actually allowed Janie to finally speak out and take control of her independence.

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Janie Crawford


Tea Cake