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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What is one feminist theme in Their Eyes Were Watching God?

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To a large extent, the story of Janie Crawford can be seen as one of female empowerment. Born and raised in a social environment disfigured by racism and sexism, Janie has a number of very serious obstacles to overcome if she's to achieve freedom and live the kind of life she wants to lead.

One such obstacle is the advice of her grandmother. Nanny tells Janie that black women are the mules of the world, and so the only way for Janie to avoid a life of back-breaking toil is to get married to a man with land who can provide her with some measure of security. Though this would represent freedom of some sort, Janie would still be beholden to a man; she still wouldn't be the kind of empowered, independent woman she wants to be.

And so it proves. After getting married to just such a man, Joe Starks, Janie finds herself stuck in a relationship that is both physically and mentally abusive. Janie stands her ground as best she can, but Joe uses his physical strength to keep her in a state of subordination.

Even after Joe passes away, Janie still cannot be truly free. Society simply cannot handle the idea of a single woman with money following her own path in life. In an illustration of feminist teaching, patriarchal society acts as an impediment to women's freedom, always seeking to restrict what women can and can't do.

Even when Janie exercises her right as a woman to choose her next partner, Tea Cake, she still finds that she is anything but free. Tea Cake beats Janie simply to show her who's boss. Janie may have chosen Tea Cake, but she certainly didn't choose to be subjected to domestic abuse.

From a feminist standpoint, Janie's abusive relationship with Tea Cake is just one more example of the near impossibility of female empowerment in a patriarchal society that looks upon women as second-class citizens.

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