Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Their Eyes Were Watching God Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Their Eyes Were Watching God appeals to readers of all ages because the primary conflict is so universal: the feeling of division experienced when the world (society, parents, friends) offers standards of happiness that do not satisfy the individual’s personal needs. Listening to Janie’s narrative, the reader realizes that life is not fair, as Janie suffers criticism from her first two husbands and the townsfolk in spite of her efforts to concede to their demands. In the end, Janie’s loyalty to her own needs makes her indifferent to the townsfolks’ comments. Likewise, young adults who are facing conflicting decisions can empathize with Janie’s original concessions to security and her ultimate decision to sacrifice security in favor of a loving relationship.

As one example of the hollowness of society’s standards of happiness, Zora Neale Hurston highlights the value ascribed to home ownership. As a child, Janie is taunted by her schoolmates because she does not live in her own home: She grew up in a small cottage erected in the yard of the white people who employed her grandmother. When she marries Logan Killicks, who provides her with her own home, she finds that it is isolated, “like a stump in the woods.” In a similar way, her second husband provides her with a new white house where she can sit on a high white porch. Yet, she finds that this larger house, with its elevated place in society, only isolates her all the more. In contrast, in her third marriage, Tea Cake and Janie live in whatever room or small house they can rent. Because Tea Cake’s personality attracts people to come into their house, however, Janie enjoys these fulfilling personal relationships much more than the lonely experience of owning her own home.

Clothes are another external status symbol that the author uses. Although Jody wants his wife dressed in fine clothes, he advertises his dominion over her by making her wear a head rag, worn by slaves and, later, by older women. After his death, Janie declares her freedom by doffing her head rag. Janie’s feelings for her two dead husbands are also expressed in her clothes. After the death of Jody Starks, she wears expensive black-and-white dresses, the prescribed colors worn by a mourning widow. In contrast, after Tea Cake dies, Janie is so grief-stricken she is totally indifferent to society’s conventions and wears overalls to his funeral.

Contrasting natural symbols are also used to devalue civilization’s artificial icons. The lyrical...

(The entire section is 637 words.)