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Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, what differences exist between Janie's three husbands?

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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie's three marriages shape, to a certain degree, Janie's individual identity and sense of self. Janie does not have a choice in marrying Logan Killicks--her grandmother Nanny marries her off to him so that Janie will be secure. Before getting married, Janie feels that love offers a sense of freedom, and she longs for this feeling. However, she soon learns that a marriage cannot make love, and Logan's treating her like "a mule" leads her to run off with Joe Starks.

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Each of Janie's three husbands has a different personality and social class/profession, and each man helps Janie to develop a sense of her own identity and what she truly wants from her life and from a relationship.

Janie's first husband is Logan Killicks, a much older farmer. Janie's grandmother, Nanny, arranges the marriage once she realizes that Janie is becoming interested in boys (when she kisses Johnny Taylor over the fence). She wants to make sure Janie has a stable, secure home, and since Logan owns land and has a steady living, he seems to Nanny like a great choice. Janie is very unhappy, though, because she has the fantasy that her marriage will be romantic and based on love. When Janie and Logan are married, she feels like she is treated as a fellow worker and not a wife. She develops no romantic feelings for him.

When Joe Stark rides through town and sweet talks Janie, she falls for him very easily. Compared to Logan, Joe seems like the perfect realization of her romantic dream. They run away together to Eatonville, where Joe becomes mayor. As the leader of the town, though, Joe is concerned about his reputation and Janie is a part of that. He keeps her separated from the town, putting her on a pedestal where she must abide by his strict behavioral expectations. His jealousy leads him to require Janie to tie her hair up in scarves. The honeymoon period for this relationship is not very long, and Janie becomes dissatisfied and feels oppressed. When Joe dies, she does not mourn and she almost immediately burns her hair scarves as a symbolic representation of her new freedom.

After Joe's death, Janie meets Tea Cake, a younger man who is more casual and playful than either Logan or Joe. Tea Cake wants to play games (literally) with Janie and they have fun, rollicking conversations. This is important since laughter and joy have really been missing from Janie's life in her other marriages. Their relationship is not perfect, but Janie is not afraid to speak up for herself. After she has to kill a rabid Tea Cake in self-defense, Janie returns to Eatonville. Though she is judged harshly by her neighbors, she is unfazed. She is confident in who she is. The relationships with each of the three men lead her to a greater sense of self and help her define her desires. She is, at the end of the novel, comfortable in her own skin as a single, independent woman.

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The greatest differences in Janie's three husbands are the ways in which they relate to other human beings and the way they view and treat Janie.

Logan sees people as providers of goods and services. His interest in and marriage to Janie is solely for the purpose of completing his farm work. He isn't interested in her, only in her ability to work.

Joe Starks sees people as an opportunity to exert himself and his own self-worth. They are an audience for his "big voice." Janie, too, is just one more member of that audience to manipulate, one more way to expand his own power.

Tea Cake finds value and self-worth in working with and for others. He isn't materialistic like Joe or Logan, but rather finds satisfaction in bringing joy to others.

However, each of Janie's three relationships helps her to grow into the self-actualized woman whom we meet as she walks back into the town of Eatonville in Chapter 1 and endures the questions and gossip thrown at her by the porchtalkers.

From Logan, Janie learns that love and marriage cannot just be arranged and suddenly happen as her grandmother believes and that, alternately, one must work and devote a great deal of attention to make a happy marriage.

With Joe, Janie has her first opportunity to apply the lessons she has learned from Logan. Unfortunately, Joe is far more interested in his own "big voice" to ever take the time to listen to Janie's wishes and aspirations. From this, Janie learns that in order to build a happy marriage, both individuals must stand on equal footing and be willing to sacrifice for the other.

It is with Tea Cake that Janie finally realizes her "love dream." In this relationship, Janie and Tea Cake treat each other as equals, they listen to one another and treat one another as equal partners. It is through this relationship that Janie becomes self-actualized and--although this last relationship ends tragically--is able to fully live her own life.

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In Their Eyes were Watching God, in what way are Janie's three husbands alike and how are they different?

  1. Janie's first husband, Logan Killicks is an older man whose marriage to Janie is arranged by the grandmother.  Janie does not love this man. 
  2. Janie's second husband is Joe Sparks, a man whom she is taken with upon meeting.  She runs off with him and is happy for a time.  However, like Logan, he is possessive and domineering.  He makes her cover her hair and will not let her talk with the other men who come to Joe's store.  The only kind of change Janie has made is an outward one:  she has moved up into a higher socio-economic class.
  3. After Joe dies, Janie works in the store; one day she meets Teacake. While he does not have the outward appearance of social class like Jody, but he does have an inner presence which comes from his self-confidence and self-knowledge.  When Tea Cake and Janie marry, they go to Florida's swamp land.  But, their home is the center of activity and Tea Cake lets Janie enjoy herself with the community, not like Jody.  Because of their loving, spiritual relationship, Janie finds herself and is comfortable in her community.  Tea Cake treats her as an equal and provides the loving support that she needs.  He teaches her to play checkers, hunt, and fish.  However, he does fall back into ideas of male dominance like Logan and Joe when he beats Janie. Yet, she continues to love him, although their marriage only lasts two years before Tea Cake dies.
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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, what impact do Janie's three marriages have on her?

In Their Eyes Were Watching GodJanie's three marriages shape, to a certain degree, Janie's individual identity and sense of self.  Janie does not have a choice in marrying Logan Killicks--her grandmother Nanny marries her off to him so that Janie will be secure.  Before getting married, Janie feels that love offers a sense of freedom, and she longs for this feeling.  However, she soon learns that a marriage cannot make love, and Logan's treating her like "a mule" leads her to run off with Joe Starks.  In her marriage with Joe, Janie feels like she has found love in the beginning, but soon Joe begins treating her like a piece of property as evidenced by him making her tie up her hair.  Janie is not free to speak her mind in the store, nor can she dress in a manner that reflects her identity.  Janie feels like she loses a sense of herself in her second marriage, and when Joe dies, Janie feels like she has been set free.  Janie resolves to find someone who will celebrate her independent spirit, and when she meets her third husband Tea Cake, he does just that.  So, by the end of the novel, Janie has learned through her three marriages that her independent spirit is valuable.

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