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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Nanny Crawford

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Janie’s grandmother, Nanny Crawford, was born into enslavement in Georgia and forced to flee the plantation after her white mistress discovered Nanny was having an affair with her husband. The white mistress threatened to kill her and sell Leafy, her daughter, who would become Janie’s mother. 

Nanny’s upbringing in enslavement causes her to be overprotective of Janie, as does her advancing age. When she discovers Janie kissing Johnny Taylor as a teenager, Nanny forces Janie to marry Logan Killicks for protection and financial stability, instead of love. Nanny Crawford is aware that she can’t care for Janie for much longer and wants Janie to have a degree of control in her life. Janie comes to her shortly after marrying Logan Killicks and asks Nanny why she hasn’t found love with him yet. Nanny assures her it will come with time, but after Janie leaves, Nanny contemplates her choice. She decides “ah done the best ah could do,” and before passing away, she asks God to take care of Janie. 

Logan Killicks

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Janie’s first husband, Logan Killicks, is an older, unassuming Black farmer. Nanny forces Janie to marry him in order to secure a house and sixty acres of farmland. He represents security and stability. However, Janie does not love him and thinks he looks like “some ol skullhead in de grave yard.” 

After a few years of marriage, Logan feels that he is spoiling Janie, just as Nanny had spoiled her. Logan expects Janie to work, and when he suggests buying a mule for her to plow with, he finds that Janie is unresponsive and recalcitrant. 

Later, when Janie mentions that she could leave him, the idea pains him, but he chooses to cover his unhappiness with scorn. After an argument in which Janie refuses to do any work for him, Logan becomes upset and insults Janie, blaming her family background for her dislike of him. Janie elopes with Joe Starks soon after.

Mrs. Turner

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After Janie moves to the Everglades with Tea Cake, she meets Mrs. Turner. She is a light-skinned woman who not only idealizes whiteness but also befriends Janie precisely because Janie has a light complexion. Mrs. Turner demonstrates internal racism within the Black community because she is prejudiced against those with darker skin. She tries to lead Janie away from Tea Cake, who has darker skin, by introducing her to her brother.

Pheoby Watson

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Pheoby Watson is Janie’s loyal friend, whom Janie calls her “bosom friend.” Janie tells her life story to Pheoby in hopes that she will share it with others. Pheoby’s role in the novel perhaps demonstrates Hurston’s call for women to share their stories with others. Pheoby comments, “Ah done growed ten feet higher from jus’ listenin’ tuh you” after Janie finishes telling her story.

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Tea Cake