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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In "Their Eyes Were Watching God", which type of love had the most impact on Janie?

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In Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, protagonist Janie is first awakened to love and desire when she and Johnny Taylor kiss. Much to the chagrin of Nanny, her grandmother, Janie is aware of romance and must, at least in Nanny's eyes, be married off for her own good. Nanny arranges for Janie to marry Logan Killicks, an older man who owns a farm. Nanny believes that it is best for Janie to have security and that love can come later. Janie protests, but she has no choice in the matter and marries Logan.

While married to Logan, Janie is dismayed to find that she does not, in fact, develop romantic feelings for him. He treats her as a helper and fellow worker. One day, a suave man named Joe Starks passes through town and sweet-talks Janie. She is won over, thinking he will be the fulfillment of her desires, the ones that first sprouted as she lay under the pear tree watching it blossom before she kissed Johnny Taylor. Janie runs away with Joe, and they settle in Eatonville, an all-black town in Florida, where Joe becomes mayor. As the wife of the mayor, Janie is placed on a pedestal and expected to behave in a very specific way. Joe does not allow her to interact with the townsfolk or to take part in their fun-loving conversations on the porches of Eatonville. He makes her tie her hair up in a scarf because he is jealous that another man may see Janie and desire her. The unhappy marriage eventually ends when Joe dies. Janie has learned through this relationship that she never wants to be owned by a man again. She is looking forward to her independence.

After Joe's death, Janie begins interacting with a younger man named Tea Cake. He impresses her with his playfulness and devotion. They play checkers and laugh and talk. Eventually, they fall in love, and they decide to marry and go to the Everglades together to work the muck. While there, a hurricane hits, and a rabid dog bites Tea Cake as he tries to save Janie. He goes mad and threatens to kill Janie, and she is forced to shoot him. From her relationship with Tea Cake, though it has a tragic end, Janie has learned that love is important in her life but that she must be treated as an equal. Though her marriage to Tea Cake is her best, Tea Cake does err a couple of times in significant ways: he runs off with her money once when they are still in Eatonville, and he beats her in the Everglades because he is jealous and concerned she was flirting with another man or that another man has eyes for her. Despite their problems, Janie and Tea Cake have an easygoing relationship that both enjoy without, generally speaking, making the other feel subservient. Even though the end of their relationship is tragic, Janie knows she has experienced real love and desire in her life, and she is content to live on her own and seek companionship in her friend Pheoby.

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Janie’s first experiences with love were with Johnny Taylor, whom she kisses. Janie’s kissed Johnny in reaction to her budding sexuality. She had been curiously observing the process of sexual readiness and reproduction as evidenced in the natural environment. She neither loved Johnny Taylor nor aspired to become his wife. Instead, she simply wanted to satisfy her curiosity and to indulge in an impulsive desire.

 After discovering Janie’s caprice with Johnny Taylor, her grandmother, Nanny, arranges a marriage for her. Janie’s marriage to Logan Killicks represents her second experience with love. Logan, who is much older than Janie, is a land-owner who is considered prosperous by many. He is able to offer Janie a degree of economic stability and financial security. Yet, their marriage is lifeless and she does not love him. Consequently, she runs away with Joe Starks, who appeals to her romantic nature.

 Janie abandons Logan Killicks for Joe Starks because Joe offers her glimpses of a dream life, filled with delicacies. He promises her prominence and influence. However, she realizes that the only role that she plays in his dream is that of a trophy wife. Her physical appearance corresponds to his image of a mayor’s wife. His love for her is superficial and it is only after his death that she discovers a true love. 

Janie’s love for Tea Cake is genuine and true. She does not look to him for financial security or social status. While she is physically attracted to him, her desire stems from love and affection rather than simple physical yearning. She simply loves the man rather than his possessions or his prominence. She wants nothing from him except to him and to be loved by him. This is the love that most impacts and shapes her life.

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