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 does the title Their Eyes Were Watching God signify?

Quick answer:

The title Their Eyes Were Watching God reflects the personal and spiritual growth of Janie Crawford and of those in her life as she seeks to make sense of the events that unfold throughout her journey.

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Hurston’s classic novel unfolds the story of Janie Crawford, who endures much hardship in her life. As her tale depicts a life of disappointment, rejection, abandonment, and betrayal, Janie finds that she questions what God is doing in and around her life. A theme throughout Janie’s life is one of growth, specifically her own personal and spiritual growth.

The novel unfolds as a narrative, as Janie shares her life story with her friend Phoeby. Looking for love, acceptance, and guidance, Janie is married three times in her life. She finally finds her true love in a man named Tea Cake. As they are facing terrible destruction from a hurricane, she and Tea Cake huddle together, waiting for the storm to pass. In this specific scene, the title of the book is referenced, “They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.” Helpless and dependent upon God’s mercy to control the storm, Janie finds the hurricane symbolic of all the "storms" she has had to weather in her life as she pursues a greater meaning and purpose.

From an early age, Janie faces instability and turmoil; the novel shows how Janie changes over time from an insecure, dependent young lady to an independent woman finally at peace with the world around her. A significant part of her journey is her own relationship with God and how Janie tries to reconcile the hardships she endures with what God has allowed or what God is doing in her life. She ultimately proclaims,

two things everbody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.

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