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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Choose a quote from Their Eyes Were Watching God that represents Janie's American Dream or that of the three communities she engages (North Florida, Eatonville, or the Muck) and explain how.

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There are many quotes that represent Janie’s dream of independence and love, but one of the most telling is at the end. She says there are "Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh themselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh themselves." Her emphasis on the need to navigate and learn about life on one’s own shows that she has achieved her dream.

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There are lot of powerful quotes in this novel that represent Janie’s American Dream. At the beginning of the story, Janie is not too certain what she wants out of life. But as time passes and she experiences loss and complicated relationships, her dream of becoming an independent woman and...

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experiencing authentic love becomes clear.

Janie is widowed three times throughout the story, and with each difficult marriage and each loss she yearns more and more for a true, loving relationship. As Janie navigates her relationships, she also begins to understand that love is more complex than she initially dreamed. This realization is quite similar to the American Dream, the notion that everything comes easy in America with enough hard work. However, this realization does not stop Janie from dreaming about love, rather, it makes her dream of a more realistic type of relationship in which she still is independent. Consider what she says at the end of the book about life:

“Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh themselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh themselves.”

This quote shows how much Janie has learned about independence. She knows that she can still dream about love and relationships, but at the end of the day she has to make it on her own in life. Her emphasis on one’s need to do things alone shows how she feels one can’t learn about life by submitting to a man and that she needs to hold onto her autonomy above all else. This understanding of life represents her dream of independence and shows the reader that to a certain extent she has achieved it.

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Choose one quote from the novel that represents either Janie's American Dream or that of the three communities she engages (North Florida, Eatonville, or the Muck) and explain how.

Janie’s personal version of the American dream changes through the course of the novel. It includes both individual self-fulfillment and becoming part of a community and thereby achieving something greater than what a solitary person could do. Her version, therefore, sometimes coincides with that of the community, but it also changes over time as she gains deeper understanding of her experiences in each place.

One important phase of the dream becoming fulfilled occurs when she marries Joe Starks and moves to Eatonville, the new town outside Maitland. Because this change represents optimism and a fresh start in a fresh place, Janie is encouraged. Jody's ambitions also fuel her positive energy because he is committed to enacting positive change. Furthermore, as his political status increases, her social position also improves. As Janie had long believed she would remain at the bottom of the social hierarchy, these improvements imbue her with hope.

Janie was astonished to see the money Jody had spent ... coming back to him so fast. ... She had her taste of presiding over it [the store] the day it was complete and finished. Jody told her to dress up and stand in the store all that evening. ... So she put on one of her bought dresses and went up the new-cut road all dressed in wine-colored red. Her silken ruffles rustled and muttered about her.

Nevertheless, Joe’s attitude is to treat her as a symbol of his success, even as he expects her to remain a home-bound woman; these factors dim her enthusiasm almost as rapidly as it rose. She sees him as dismissive of her feelings and understands that he is more concerned that no other wives should seem to outrank her: she is “the bell-cow, the other women were the gang.”

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Choose one quote from the novel that represents either Janie's American Dream or that of the three communities she engages (North Florida, Eatonville, or the Muck) and explain how.

It would be hard not to associate Janie's dream with the pear tree episode:

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage!

This passage represents not only a moment of sexual awakening for Janie but also the moment she describes as her awakening to consciousness. The mutuality and reciprocal pleasure associated with the pollinated pear blossom and the pollinating bee creates a natural benchmark for marriage and happiness.

All else in the novel is measured against what Janie sees in nature as an ideal relationship. In this image, Janie sees, though cannot fully understand, the role of agency and hierarchies. Nature here does not dwell in power and hierarchies (as both racial and gendered society do). The bee has the agency to pollinate the blossom; the blossom has the pollen to provide sustenance to the bee. Neither loses more than they gain in their encounter with each other, and both remain themselves.

In her marriages to Logan and Jody, Janie is asked to give up her agency—to become a "mule" for Logan, who sees a horizon no more expansive than forty acres of farmland, and to become an adornment or accessory to Jody, who only wants to simulate the tokens of power he associates with white culture. Janie's Caucasian attributes place her higher in his eyes because they are considered higher in white society. In both marriages, she loses crucial elements of her own self, most specifically her agency and her voice.

Logan Killicks (a name that means wooden anchor) and Joe Stark (whose name implies sparse fruitlessness) both suggest an approach to the natural world diametrically opposed to a pollinated pear tree. With Tea Cake, she becomes more autonomous and also more connected emotionally to her lover in a way that honors natural reciprocity. They give and receive differently but equally from each other. It is not surprising that Tea Cake (or Vergible Woods) enables her to experience the dream she discovered under the pear tree.

The last passage returns to the first page, where the novel claims that

women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

For Janie, because she has gone to the horizon and seen what she has seen, she can rest within the truth of her dream and act with the agency provided by having her memories of love and mutuality. The novel concludes with just this sense of triumph:

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.

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