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Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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Why is Janie's voice valuable to her character in chapters 12 and 13 of Their Eyes Were Watching God?

Quick answer:

Janie's voice is valuable to her character in chapters 12 and 13 because she is challenged by neighbors and her new husband as to what her personal boundaries are going to be in this relationship with Tea Cake. For the first time in her life, she proves to herself and others that she will stand up for herself and hold her boundaries.

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In chapter 11 of Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie and Tea Cake's relationship deepens as they fall in love and Janie allows him to spend the night. Nosey neighbors are common in small towns to the point that everyone watches everyone else. Janie is the former mayor's wife and holds a high social status, so her reputation is on the line because of her relationship with a low-status, younger man. By chapter 12, Janie shows up to a community picnic with Tea Cake. That motivates Sam Watson to ask Janie's friend Pheoby to talk to her about her behavior. The people in the community care for Janie and don't want her to be taken advantage of by a possible conman.

When Janie answers Pheoby's concerns in chapter 12, Janie proves to herself and others that she is in command of her own truth, reality, and life. She mentions that she isn't going to live by her grandmother's or previous husband's ideals of womanhood anymore. She claims that she has always wanted to explore the world and her place in it. She couldn't before because everyone always told her what to do, how to do it, and when to sit down and be quiet. By the time she meets Tea Cake, she's ready and able to do what she wants with her life no matter what anyone else says. The best way Janie uses her voice in chapter 12 is as follows:

Tea Cake ain't no Jody Starks, and if he tried tuh be, it would be uh complete flommuck. . . So us is goin' off somewhere and start all over in Tea Cake's way. Dis ain't no business proposition, and no race after property and titles. Dis is uh love game. Ah done lived Grandma's way, now Ah means tuh live mine (114).

This shows that she feels confident in her choice and she's going to follow it no matter what society says about it. This is her new confident voice talking.

Chapter 13 shows Janie dealing with a new husband who takes her $200 and throws a party down near the railroad with people he deems as lower than her station in life. He's gone overnight, and it scares her that she's been taken advantage of just like Pheoby said. When he comes back and tells her what he did, she wonders why he didn't come get her. He is surprised that she would want to partake in his partying. She says that she wants to do whatever he is doing. But she also finds her voice enough to say the following:

Looka heah, Tea Cake, if you ever go off from me and have a good time lak dat and then come back heah telling' me how nice Ah is, Ah specks to kill yuh dead. You heah me?

Janie never felt confident enough to speak to her other husbands like that because he would hit her if she did. With Tea Cake, though, she feels comfortable enough to do so, and he doesn't hit her. She is older now and knows that she what she does and does not want to put up with in a husband. Tea Cake wins back the money he took from her and vows to take care of her financially like a husband should from then on.

By standing up for what she believes is best for herself to both Pheoby and Tea Cake, Janie's voice adds confidence to her character which she did not have before with her two previous husbands. Janie's voice here shows that she has grown within herself and has the confidence and pride in herself to stand for her own truth.

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