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Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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Where is the "spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation" evident in the ending of Their Eyes Were Watching God and how is it significant to the overall book?

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Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is a story about a young African American woman in the early 1900s. In this novel, she suffers numerous hardships and loses the man she loves to an untimely death. However, through her journey of suffering she gains wisdom and discovers that inner peace can only be found by accepting what you cannot change.

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Zora Neale Hurston's Janie, in Their Eyes Were Watching God , spends the majority of the book searching for meaning and happiness. For much of the story, she is looking for a spiritual connection to something or someone outside of herself, and she has a strong moral sense of...

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what she wants and deserves out of life. However, her desire and belief are often thwarted when what she believes she wants turns out to be less than ideal.

The story of her journey is framed in the story of her return to Eatonville, where she lived with her second husband, Joe. However, the beginning and ending of the book are framed in the context of horizons. The story begins as follows:

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly (1).

Here, Hurston draws a distinction between the desires of men and women. Both genders dream, but men hope for things that are often unattainable, whereas women frame their desires in the context of their reality. In her younger years, Janie hoped for things out of her reach. In her youth, she felt a deep connection to nature and the natural rhythms of love and desire, but she was married off to a farmer for security, was expected to work hard, and was not treated very well. Then came the man who would become her second husband:

Janie pulled back a long time because he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance (29).

Joe presented another shot at her dream; he spoke to her kindly and treated her like a queen, but he ended up only wanting her to be a trophy. Her initial trepidation was correct—he would not let her be her natural self—and her second marriage started to fall apart as well. During Janie's relationship with Joe, Hurston again writes of horizons and the things that Janie was still missing in life:

She had been getting ready for her great journey to the horizons in search of people; it was important to all the world that she should find them and they find her (89).

She also reflects on the way in which Nanny's idea of a horizon was harmful to Janie:

Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon—for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you—and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter's neck tight enough to choke her (89).

As Janie's second marriage crumbles, Tea Cake enters the picture and treats her more as an equal than she has ever been treated before. While he still possesses many shortcomings, he respects her in new ways and wants her to be a living, breathing, thinking person alongside him. Their relationship is tumultuous at times, but Janie is genuinely happy to be with him. She is able to learn more about herself and accomplish things she never would have dreamed of when she was with Logan or Joe. However, tragedy strikes when Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog and develops rabies. Janie ends up having to kill him in self-defense, and even though the one love of her life is taken from her, she is surprisingly resolute. She has had the experience of love; she has come to a new understanding of her own spirituality and morality independent of anyone or anything around her, and as Hurston concludes, she has found contentment:

Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see (193).

Janie's journey takes her from dreams of what could be to the acceptance of what is. She comes to understand that her spirituality and morality are not things to be found, but things to be built within each individual. Although she experienced many hardships, she came through them as a more complete and more content person.

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Although some readers find the ending of Their Eyes Were Watching God to be sad because of Tea Cake's death, the story can also be seen as very uplifting if we focus on the outlook of the main character Janie.

Yes, Tea Cake dies at the end of the novel, at Janie's hand no less. However, the lesson Janie takes away from the experience is her awakening and understanding of true love. As she tells Pheoby on her back porch, "Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore."

Despite her experiences in life and in love, Janie chooses to see the good in her future; she reassesses her life and consciously chooses to learn from it and be better because of it.

Furthermore, we see that same idea projected onto Pheoby as well. Following Janie's entire story, Pheoby exclaims, "Lawd!... Ah done growed ten feet higher fromjus' listenin' tuh you, Janie. Ah ain't satisfied wid mahself no mo'." Here, we see and sense that Janie's experiences have not only transformed her own life, but the sharing of her story has transformed the life of her best friend as well.

Janie professed to desire true love; however, that desire was merely a mask for her ultimate desire of self-actualization and self-understanding. She gained these virtues because of her experiences with Tea Cake and, although he may now be gone, his memory continues to propel her forward. As the narrator states in the novels last lines, "Of course he wasn't dead. He could never be dead until she herself has finished feeling and thinking."

In the end, Janie makes peace with her loss of Tea Cake and the attitudes and opinions of those townsfolk who judge her, for Janie has found herself, her meaning, and her happiness.

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