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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Does Janie's story in the last three pages of the novel end in triumph, despair, or both?

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Depending on what one emphasizes, one might settle on a different answer. The novel is easy to simplify as a coming-of-age story with Janie triumphing at the end. She is able to "sit on high" and preach a sermon, as Nanny might have wanted, but this is Janie's story, not her grandmother's. The story she tells (i.e., the novel itself) is not just about power or attaining the things the white community values. Janie's life before Tea Cake was influenced by those values, and she needs to reject them in order to become free.

At the same time, Tea Cake's sickness and death, her having to be the one to shoot him, makes the ending more nuanced than triumph suggests. She does attain her pear-tree moment with Tea Cake, and the wisdom she gains from that will give her comfort. She is independent, and her desire to find a new horizon has been abated. However, the last few pages have a complex element to them. We can celebrate with Janie but also mourn with her. She ends where the novel begins.

Women, we learn in the second paragraph, are not broken when their dreams die. They remember and forget as they choose, and Janie will remember what she doesn't want to forget about Tea Cake and forget what she doesn't want to remember about the storm, Tea Cake's illness, and the racism they encountered after the hurricane. She will wrap herself in the meshes of these memories she chooses. However, Hurston would likely not have included the horrible injustices after the hurricane if she didn't want to blend her ending with complex emotions.

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Janie's story ends in triumph. She is totally at peace with herself, her choices, and her life.  She says, "So Ah'm back home agin and Ah'm satisfied tuh be heah. Ah done been tuh de horizon and back and now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons. Dis house ain't so absent of things lak it used to be befo' Tea Cake come along. It's full uh thoughts, 'specially dat bedroom." Even though she came back alone, she is satisified with the life she chose to lead. She has lived a full life and been "tuh de horizon and back." She can see how her life is more full because of the life she chose to live with Tea Cake. 

When she finally retires to her room, she describes remembering and mourning Tea Cake.  But she says that Tea Cake is with her even then and that he would never truly be dead until she stopped feeling and thinking about him.  "...his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see."  What a lyrical, beautiful ending! She has the world and the horizon in her "net" and can now be at peace with her memories and her love for Tea Cake and the life they lived together.

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