Monday, October 3, 2011

Janie's Search for Identity in "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neal Hurston

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Janie overcomes many obstacles such as possessive husbands, tragedies, and lack of individuality in an attempt to achieve her own meaning of life. Throughout the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston depicts Janie, the main character, struggling to find peace and a sense of identity. As an adolescent, Janie develops visions of her future life, but the actions of her grandmother and husbands, Logan and Jody, help destroy these dreams. Finally, Janie discovers her free spirit, and then she finds herself content with the life she must live alone.


Early in her life, Janie has visions and dreams full of hope, but these dreams are destroyed by her grandmother?s wishes for her to marry for security and money, not love. After she marries Logan, Janie is forced to mature very quickly. Janie?s new found maturity is evident when ? she extend[s] herself outside of her dream and [goes] inside of the house. [This] was the end of her childhood?(Hurston1). She continues to live with Logan, even though their happiness together has faded. He becomes more demanding, giving Janie more work to do. Janie?s unhappiness prompts her to realize that ?she [knows] now that marriage [does] not make love. Janie?s first dream [is] dead, so she [becomes] a woman?(5). She obediently follows Logan?s orders until she sees a path of escape.


Janie seems to find this path when she escapes Logan and marries Jody. However she just escapes one possessive husband to fall into the hands of another. Jody promises to love Janie and make her happy, but his love for her soon becomes overwhelmed by his need for power. Janie finds herself happy with Jody for only a very short time. As Jody becomes an important figure in the town of Eatonville, he strives for even more power and begins controlling her completely. She becomes a possession to Jody and must quietly submit to all of his wishes. Janie?s twenty-year marriage with Jody wears down both her spirit and outlooks. ?The years took all of the fight out of Janie?s face. She had learned how to talk some and leave some. She was a rut in the road?(76). Feeling trapped, she lives her life known simply as the mayor?s wife. ?Sometimes she [sticks] out into the future, imagining her life different from what it [is]. But mostly she [lives] between her hat and her heels, with her emotional disturbances like shade patterns in the woods- come and gone with the sun?(76). Janie lives mostly through thoughts, not actions, during her marriage to Jody, having realized the importance of keeping her feelings and emotions to herself in her marriage to Jody. She lives most of this part of her life without her own sense of individuality.


After Jody dies, Janie meets Tea Cake and starts to gain freedom and expresses her true individuality and identity. Janie exposes her true self to others mainly because of the time she spends with Tea Cake, an individual with a great sense of identity. Unhindered by a dominant husband, Janie?s self emerges. Janie also finds love and respect in her marriage to Tea Cake. She understands her love for Tea Cake after he is cut while gambling and ?he [drifts] into sleep and Janie [looks] down on him and [feels] a self-crushing love. So her soul [crawls] out from its hiding place?(18). Teacake is the first person who fully accepts Janie, and she embraces this somewhat new feeling. With this new sense of identity and way of life she starts to have an entirely different outlook on life. After Teacake dies, ?she pull[s] in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pull[s] it from around the waist of the world and drape[s] it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She call[s] in her soul to come and see? (1). Tea Cake leaves Janie fully content with her life, and she feels that she has experienced the best that love could give to a woman.


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Janie breaks free of the stereotypical role for women of her time and discovers her own visions and dreams. Janie evolves from a young woman with a dreamy image of love to a mature woman with a deeper understanding of her true self.


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