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TEWWG Themes

Language: Speech and Silence
Their Eyes Were Watching God is most often celebrated for Hurston’s unique use of language, particularly her mastery of rural Southern black dialect. Throughout the novel, she utilizes an interesting narrative structure, splitting the presentation of the story between high literary narration and idiomatic discourse. The long passages of discourse celebrate the culturally rich voices of Janie’s world; these characters speak as do few others in American literature, and their distinctive grammar, vocabulary, and tone mark their individuality.

Hurston’s use of language parallels Janie’s quest to find her voice. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes in the afterword to most modern editions of the book, Their Eyes Were Watching God is primarily concerned “with the project of finding a voice, with language as an instrument of injury and salvation, of selfhood and empowerment.” Jody stifles Janie’s speech, as when he prevents her from talking after he is named mayor; her hatred of him stems from
TEWWG Themes

Language: Speech and Silence part 2
his respect for her individuality.

After Janie discovers her ability to define herself by her speech interactions with others, she learns that silence too can be a source of empowerment; having found her voice, she learns to control it. Similarly, the narrator is silent in conspicuous places, neither revealing why Janie isn’t upset with Tea Cake’s beating nor disclosing her words at the trial. In terms of both the form of the novel and its thematic content, Hurston places great emphasis on the control of language as the source of identity and empowerment.
TEWWG Themes

Power and Conquest as Means to Fulfillment
Whereas Janie struggles to assert a place for herself by undertaking a spiritual journey toward love and self-awareness, Jody attempts to achieve fulfillment through the exertion of power. He tries to purchase and control everyone and everything around him; he exercises his authority hoping to subordinate his environment to his will. He labors under the illusion that he can control the world around him and that, by doing so, he will achieve some sense of profound fulfillment. Others exhibit a similar attitude toward power and control; even Tea Cake, for example, is filled with hubris as the hurricane whips up, certain that he can survive the storm through his mastery of the muck. For both Jody and Tea Cake, the natural world reveals the limits of human power. In Jody’s case, as disease sets in, he begins to lose the illusion that he can control his world; the loss of authority over Janie as she talks back to him furthers this disillusionment. In Tea Cake’s case, he is forced to flee
TEWWG Themes

Power and Conquest as Means to Fulfillment part 2
the hurricane and struggles to survive the ensuing floods. This limit to the scope of one’s power proves the central problem with Jody’s power-oriented approach toward achieving fulfillment: ultimately, Jody can neither stop his deterioration nor silence Janie’s strong will.
TEWWG Themes

Love and Relationships versus Independence
Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of how Janie achieves a strong sense of self and comes to appreciate her independence. But her journey toward enlightenment is not undertaken alone. The gender differences that Hurston espouses require that men and women provide each other things that they need but do not possess. Janie views fulfilling relationships as reciprocal and based on mutual respect, as demonstrated in her relationship with Tea Cake, which elevates Janie into an equality noticeably absent from her marriages to Logan and Jody.

Although relationships are implied to be necessary to a fulfilling life, Janie’s quest for spiritual fulfillment is fundamentally a self-centered one. She is alone at the end yet seems content. She liberates herself from her unpleasant and unfulfilling relationships with Logan and Jody, who hinder her personal journey. Through her relationship with Tea Cake, Janie experiences true fulfillment and enlightenment and becomes secure in her
TEWWG Themes

Love and Relationships versus Independence part 2
independence. She feels a deep connection to the world around her and even feels that the spirit of Tea Cake is with her. Thus, even though she is alone, she doesn’t feel alone.
TEWWG Motifs

Community
As Janie returns to Eatonville, the novel focuses on the porch-sitters who gossip and speculate about her situation. In Eatonville and the Everglades, particularly, the two most significant settings in the novel, Janie constantly interacts with the community around her. At certain times, she longs to be a part of this vibrant social life, which, at its best, offers warmth, safety, connection, and interaction for Janie. In Chapter 18, for example, when Tea Cake, Janie, and Motor Boat seek shelter from the storm, the narrator notes that they “sat in company with the others in other shanties”; of course, they are not literally sitting in the same room as these others, but all of those affected by the hurricane share a communal bond, united against the overwhelming, impersonal force of the hurricane.

At other times, however, Janie scorns the pettiness of the gossip and rumors that flourish in these communities, which often criticize her out of jealousy for her independence and strong will
TEWWG Motifs

Community part 2
These communities, exemplifying a negative aspect of unity, demand the sacrifice of individuality. Janie refuses to make this sacrifice, but even near the end of the book, during the court trial, “it [i]s not death she fear[s]. It [i]s misunderstanding.” In other words, Janie still cares what people in the community think because she still longs to understand herself.
TEWWG Motifs

Race and Racism
Because Zora Neale Hurston was a famous black author who was associated with the Harlem Renaissance, many readers assume that Their Eyes Were Watching God is concerned primarily with issues of race. Although race is a significant motif in the book, it is not, by any means, a central theme. As Alice Walker writes in her dedication to I Love Myself When I Am Laughing . . . and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader, “I think we are better off if we think of Zora Neale Hurston as an artist, period—rather than as the artist/politician most black writers have been required to be.” Along the same lines, it is far more fulfilling to read Janie’s story as a profoundly human quest than as a distinctly black one.

But issues of race are nonetheless present. Janie and Tea Cake experience prejudice from both blacks and whites at significant moments in the book. Two moments in particular stand out: Janie’s interactions, in Chapter 16, with Mrs. Turner, a black
TEWWG Motifs

Race and Racism part 2
with racist views against blacks, and the courtroom scene, in Chapter 19, after which Janie is comforted by white women but scorned by her black friends. In these moments, we see that racism in the novel operates as a cultural construct, a free-floating force that affects anyone, white or black, weak enough to succumb to it. Hurston’s perspective on racism was undoubtedly influenced by her study with influential anthropologist Franz Boas, who argued that ideas of race are culturally constructed and that skin color indicates little, if anything, about innate difference. In other words, racism is a cultural force that individuals can either struggle against or yield to rather than a mindset rooted in demonstrable facts. In this way, racism operates in the novel just like the hurricane and the doctrine to which Jody adheres; it is an environmental force that challenges Janie in her quest to achieve harmony with the world around her.
TEWWG Motifs

The Folklore Quality of Religion
As the title indicates, God plays a huge role in the novel, but this God is not really the Judeo-Christian god. The book maintains an almost Gnostic perspective on the universe: God is not a single entity but a diffuse force. This outlook is particularly evident in the mystical way that Hurston describes nature. At various times, the sun, moon, sky, sea, horizon, and other aspects of the natural world appear imbued with divinity. The God in the title refers to these divine forces throughout the world, both beautiful and threatening, that Janie encounters. Her quest is a spiritual one because her ultimate goal is to find her place in the world, understand who she is, and be at peace with her environment.

Thus, except for one brief reference to church in Chapter 12, organized religion never appears in the novel. The idea of spirituality, on the other hand, is always present, as the novel espouses a worldview rooted in folklore and mythology. As an anthropologist, Hurston collected rural
TEWWG Motifs

The Folklore Quality of Religion part 2
mythology and folklore of blacks in America and the Caribbean. Many visions of mysticism that she presents in the novel—her haunting personification of Death, the idea of a sun-god, the horizon as a boundary at the end of the world—are likely culled directly from these sources. Like her use of dialogue, Hurston’s presentation of folklore and non-Christian spirituality celebrates the black rural culture.
TEWWG Symbols

Hair
Janie’s hair is a symbol of her power and unconventional identity; it represents her strength and individuality in three ways. First, it represents her independence and defiance of petty community standards. The town’s critique at the very beginning of the novel demonstrates that it is considered undignified for a woman of Janie’s age to wear her hair down. Her refusal to bow down to their norms clearly reflects her strong, rebellious spirit. Second, her hair functions as a phallic symbol; her braid is constantly described in phallic terms and functions as a symbol of a typically masculine power and potency, which blurs gender lines and thus threatens Jody. Third, her hair, because of its straightness, functions as a symbol of whiteness; Mrs. Turner worships Janie because of her straight hair and other Caucasian characteristics. Her hair contributes to the normally white male power that she wields, which helps her disrupt traditional power relationships throughout the novel.
TEWWG Symbols

The Pear Tree and the Horizon
The pear tree and the horizon represent Janie’s idealized views of nature. In the bees’ interaction with the pear tree flowers, Janie witnesses a perfect moment in nature, full of erotic energy, passionate interaction, and blissful harmony. She chases after this ideal throughout the rest of the book. Similarly, the horizon represents the far-off mystery of the natural world, with which she longs to connect. Janie’s hauling in of her horizon “like a great fish-net” at the end of the novel indicates that she has achieved the harmony with nature that she has sought since the moment under the pear tree.
TEWWG Symbols

The Hurricane
The hurricane represents the destructive fury of nature. As such, it functions as the opposite of the pear tree and horizon imagery: whereas the pear tree and horizon stand for beauty and pleasure, the hurricane demonstrates how chaotic and capricious the world can be. The hurricane makes the characters question who they are and what their place in the universe is. Its impersonal nature—it is simply a force of pure destruction, lacking consciousness and conscience—makes the characters wonder what sort of world they live in, whether God cares about them at all, and whether they are fundamentally in conflict with the world around them. In the face of the hurricane, Janie and the other characters wonder how they can possibly survive in a world filled with such chaos and pain.
TEWWG Themes

Search for Self
Although the novel follows Janie through three relationships with men, most critics see its main theme to be Janie's search for herself. She must fight off the influences of her grandmother, who encourages her to sacrifice self-fulfillment for security, and her first two husbands, who stifle her development. Her second husband, Jody, has an especially negative impact on Janie's growth as his bourgeois aspirations turn her into a symbol of his stature in the town. She is not allowed to be herself, but must conform to his notions of propriety, which means she cannot enjoy the talk of the townsfolk on the porch, let alone participate in it. After he is elected mayor, she is asked to give "a few words uh encouragement," but Jody interrupts the applause by telling the town, "man wife don't know nothin' 'bout no speech-makin'. Ah never married her for her nothin' lak dat. She's uh woman and her place is in de home." After this, Janie feels "cold," realizing that by cutting her off, Jody has
TEWWG Themes

Search for Self part 2
prevented her from deciding for herself whether or not she even wanted to give a speech. Throughout the rest of her marriage, Janie must bury her own desires to the point where she loses sight of them altogether. But after Jody's death she feels a freedom she has never known.
When the young Tea Cake enters her life, she decides that she has done what Jody and the town have wanted her to do long enough, so she rejects their ideas for her future and marries a younger man. Her relationship with Tea Cake allows her to find herself in a way that had not been possible before. But some critics see Tea Cake as another obstacle to Janie's development. In some ways, their relationship is conventional in the sense that Janie willingly defers to his judgment and follows him on his adventures. "Once upon uh time, Ah never 'spected nothin', Tea Cake, but bein' dead from the standin' still and tryin' tuh laugh," she tells him. "But you come 'long and made somethin' out me." Statements like this have
TEWWG Themes

Search for Self part 3
have caused critics to question how successful Janie is at discovering her true self. Some see the ending as a reaffirmation that a woman must find herself on her own. By killing Tea Cake in self-defense, although she deeply regrets having to do so, Janie has come full circle in her development. She now knows who she is and has found "peace." In the closing lines the narrator tells us, "She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net," indicating that she no longer has to seek for meaning outside of herself in the world; she has found it within herself.
TEWWG Themes

Language and Meaning
Integral to Janie's search for self is her quest to become a speaking subject. Language is depicted in the novel as the means by which one becomes a full-fledged member of the community and, hence, a full human being. In Eatonville, the men engage in "eternal arguments, ... a contest in hyperbole and carried on for no other reason." These contests in language are the central activities in the town, but only the men are allowed to participate. Janie especially regrets being excluded, but "gradually, she pressed her teeth together and learned to hush." But the dam of repressed language erupts when Jody ridicules her aging body in front of the men in the store. Her speech then becomes a weapon as she tells him (and everyone else), "When you pull down yo' britches, you look lak de change uh life." By comparing him to a woman going through menopause, she attacks his manhood in an irretrievable way. Janie has gained her voice, and in the process has metaphorically killed her husband, whose
TEWWG Themes

Language and Meaning part 2
strength has resided in her silence and submission. Later, when Janie and Tea Cake are on the muck, Janie becomes a full member of the community, as signified by her ability as a speaking subject. "The men held big arguments here like they used to on the store porch. Only here, she could listen and laugh and even talk some herself if she wanted to. She got so she could tell big stories herself from listening to the rest." At the end of the book, Janie's return to tell her story to the town, through Pheoby, signals to some critics her reintegration in the community. Others, though, believe she is still excluded because she will not speak to them directly.
TEWWG Themes

Narration
Although the framing device of Janie telling Pheoby her story sets up the novel as Janie's story, it is not told in the first person. Instead, a narrative voice tells most of the story, and there has been much discussion of whose voice this is. Claire Crabtree, writing in Southern Literary Journal, argues that it is "always close to but not identical with Janie's consciousness," indicating that the omniscient narrator, who knows more about other characters' thoughts than Janie could know herself, is also closely aligned with the heroine. The narrator also uses free indirect speech at many points to convey Janie's thoughts, another indication that the narrator and Janie's consciousness are closely aligned. But Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his The Signifying Monkey, argues that the narrative voice "echoes and aspires to the status of the impersonality, anonymity, and authority of the black vernacular tradition, a nameless, selfless tradition, at once collective and compelling." The narrator
TEWWG Themes

Narration part 2
then, who speaks in standard English, while the characters speak in black dialect, becomes, according to Gates, more and more representative of the black community as it progressively adopts the patterns of black vernacular speech. The narrative voice takes on the aspect of oral speech, telling not only Janie's story, but many other stories as well. For example, Nanny's voice takes over as she tells the story of Janie's heritage, and the voices on the porch also take over for long stretches as their "arguments" tell the story of life in Eatonville. In essence, there are many storytellers within the larger story of Janie's life, and many voices inform the novel.
TEWWG Themes

Folklore
One of the most unique features of Their Eyes Were Watching God is its integration of folklore with fiction. Hurston borrows literary devices from the black rural oral tradition, which she studied as an anthropologist, to further cement her privileging of that tradition over the Western literary tradition. For example, she borrows the technique of repetition in threes found commonly in folklore in her depiction of Janie's three marriages. Also, in the words of Claire Crabtree, "Janie follows a pattern familiar to folklorists of a young person's journey from home to face adventure and various dangers, followed by a triumphant homecoming." In addition, Janie returns "richer and wiser" than she left, and she is ready to share her story with Pheoby, intending that the story be repeated, as a kind of folktale to be passed on.
TEWWG Themes

Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance, which experienced its heyday in Harlem in the 1920s but also flourished well into the 1930s, was an outpouring of creative innovation among blacks that celebrated the achievements of black intellectuals and artists. The initial goal of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance was to overcome racism and convince the white public that African-Americans were more intelligent than the stereotypes of docile, ignorant blacks that pervaded the popular arena. In order to do so, then, most of the early writers associated with the movement imitated the themes and styles of mainstream, white literature. But later writers felt that African-American literature should depict the unique and debilitating circumstances in which blacks lived, confronting their white audiences with scenes of brutal racism. Zora Neale Hurston, considered the most important female member of the Harlem Renaissance, felt that the writings of African-Americans should celebrate the speech and traditions of
TEWWG Themes

Harlem Renaissance part 2
black people. The use of dialect in Their Eyes Were Watching God caused much controversy among other black writers of the day when it was first published because many felt that such language in the mouths of black characters perpetuated negative stereotypes about blacks as ignorant, but critics today agree that the novel's celebration of black language was the most important contribution Hurston made to African-American literature.
TEWWG

Chap. 1-2
From the very beginning of the book, then, language plays a crucial role; the book is framed more as an act of telling than of writing. Even before Janie speaks, we hear the murmur of the gossips on the porch: “A mood come alive. Words walking without masters.” Throughout the book, speech—or more accurately, the control of language—proves crucially important. These first chapters introduce the important and complex role that language and speech will play throughout the novel.
TEWWG

Chap. 1-2 part 2
ne of the most commented-upon aspects of the novel is Hurston’s split style of narrative. The book begins in an omniscient, third-person narrator’s voice, one that is decidedly literary and intellectual, full of metaphors, figurative language, and other poetic devices. This voice anchors the entire novel and is clearly separate from Janie’s voice. Hurston splits the narrative between this voice and long passages of dialogue uninterrupted by any comment from the narrator. These passages are marked by their highly colloquial language, colorful folksy aphorisms (“Unless you see de fur, a mink skin ain’t no different from a coon hide”), and avoidance of Standard Written English. These unusual passages celebrate a rich folk tradition that is not often expressed on the page.
TEWWG

Chap. 1-2 part 3
n Chapter 2, an important symbol is introduced: Janie’s moment under the pear tree is a defining moment in her life and one that is referenced throughout the book. This experience relates symbolically to several themes: most obviously, Janie resonates with the sexuality of the springtime moment, and for the rest of the book, the pear tree serves as her standard of sexual and emotional fulfillment. At first glance, the tree seems to mirror traditional gender stereotypes: the tree (the female) waits passively for the aggressive male bee who penetrates its blossoms. But Hurston’s careful language tweaks stereotypical notions of the female role: “the thousand sister calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree. . . .” Although the tree waits for the arrival of the bee, the love embrace is reciprocal. From the opening passage of the book, it is clear that men and women are seen as fundamentally different. Janie doesn’t want a male identity but rather a female
TEWWG

Chap. 1-2 part 4
to parallel a male one; in the natural world, male and female impulses complement each other, creating a perfect union in a mutual embrace. Each gives the other what the other needs but does not yet possess. This ideal of love and fulfillment is at the center of Janie’s quest throughout the book.
TEWWG

Chap. 3-4
The conversation between Janie and Nanny in Chapter 3 neatly demonstrates the difference between their respective worldviews. For Nanny, relationships are a matter of pragmatism: Logan Killicks makes a good husband because he is well-off, honest, and hard-working. In a harsh world, he offers shelter and physical security. As Janie later realizes, in Chapter 12, it makes sense that a former slave like Nanny would have such a perspective. Her life has been one of poverty and hardship, with any hope of material advancement dashed by the color of her skin. Logan Killicks, a successful farmer who owns his own land, represents an ideal that she could only dream of when she was Janie’s age.

But Janie clearly wants something more. She is searching for a deeper kind of fulfillment, one that offers both physical passion and emotional connection. Both the physical and emotional are important to Janie and inseparable from her idea of love. When explaining why she doesn’t love Logan, she
TEWWG

Chap. 3-4 part 2
she first mentions how ugly she thinks he is. She then mentions how he doesn’t speak beautifully to her. She feels no connection to him—neither physical, nor emotional, nor intellectual.

Jody, on the other hand, seems to offer something more: he “spoke for far horizon.” Throughout the book, the horizon is an important symbol. It represents imagination and limitless possibility, the type of life that Janie wants as opposed to the one that she has.
TEWWG

Chap. 3-4 part 3
What lies beyond the horizon remains unclear; Janie doesn’t know what to expect of Jody and the new life that he offers her. In fact, she is only certain of what he doesn’t offer: “he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees. . . .” These are the figures of Janie’s youthful romantic desires; she is willing to abandon or compromise these desires in exchange for the possibility of change.
TEWWG

Chap. 3-4 part 4
ody exudes possibility and freedom because he, unlike Logan, who is solid and dependable but dull and mule-like, bursts with ambition and power. Power, particularly the type of power expressed by Jody, is a crucial theme throughout the book. He talks about the future, travel, and conquest; to Janie, these ideas seem like ways to reach the far horizon. For the remainder of his time in the book, Jody Starks stands as a symbol of masculine aggression and power; he attempts to purchase, control, and dominate the world around him. As we later see, Jody’s manner of interacting with the world fails to translate into secure happiness and fulfillment for Janie. At this point, though, she is dazzled by the power Jody offers and believes that it can grant her a better life.
TEWWG

Chap. 5
This chapter explores the masculine power that Jody Starks embodies. His political and economic conquest of the town recalls the opening passage of the book about “Ships at a distance.” Jody is one of the few characters whose ship does come in, but his success is more of a curse than a blessing. His flaunting of his wealth and power alienates the townspeople. He appears to them as a darker version of the white master whom they thought they had escaped. His megalomania extends beyond social superiority to a need to play god, as the lamp-lighting ceremony demonstrates. His words at the end of his speech, “let it shine,” refer to a gospel hymn about Jesus as the Light of the World. Jody wants his light, the light that he bought, built, and put in place, to stand for the sun and, by extension, God himself. These words also hearken back to the Bible’s account of creation. Jody’s money and ambition give him power over the rest of the town, and he exploits this advantage to position himself
TEWWG

Chap. 5 part 2
himself as superior to the rest of the town. Such hubris, or presumptuousness, situates Jody in a classical scheme as one bound to fall.

Janie experiences the brunt of Jody’s domineering nature. Jody never accepts Janie for what she is; instead, he tries to shape her into his image of the type of woman that he wants. She gets her first taste of his need to control her when he prevents her from making a speech after he is named mayor. Here, in particular, control is intertwined with language and speech: to allow Janie to speak would be to allow her to assert her identity in her own words. Forcing Janie to hide her hair is another way that Jody tries to control her. As hinted in Chapter 1, Janie’s hair is an essential aspect of her identity and speaks to the strength of her person. Her hair’s straightness signifies whiteness and therefore marks her as different from the rest of her community (and even marks her parents as deviant).
TEWWG

Chap. 5 part 3
hough Janie’s hair exudes feminine sexuality and is a locus of contestation among the men, it also has a masculine quality. Because of its shape, Janie’s braided hair is clearly a phallic symbol. This phallic symbolism is typical of Hurston’s deconstruction of traditional categories of representation. In Janie’s hair, feminine beauty, traditionally the object of male desire and aggression, acquires power and becomes the acting agent. Janie’s hair represents the power that she wields—her refusal (in later chapters) to be dominated by men and her refusal to obey traditional notions of female submission to male desire.
TEWWG

Chap. 6
Chapter 6 serves two chief functions: it further explores Janie and Jody’s relationship, particularly his need for control, and it examines the strong sense of community in Eatonville, particularly the way language nurtures this sense of community. Both of these issues relate to Janie’s continuing quest to find herself and a sense of meaning and purpose. Initially drawn to Jody because of his ambition, and thinking that she would achieve her dreams through him, Janie learns, in this chapter, that Jody’s power only restricts her. On the other hand, by experiencing the richness of life in Eatonville, in particular the rich folk traditions of conversation, Janie begins to see how she might live the life that she so desires.
TEWWG

Chap. 6 part 2
Hurston again uses two different narrative devices to differentiate between the realm of Janie and Jody’s relationship and that of the community. The third-person omniscient narrator describes Janie’s life in the store: except for her outburst at the end, she remains silent, and the narrator tells us her story. But in the lengthy passages of dialogue, we are brought deeper into the world of the novel: instead of being told a story, we are actually being shown a world. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. points out in his essay “Their Eyes Were Watching God: Hurston and the Speakerly Text,” we experience the full richness of these conversations because the characters speak for themselves. Only rarely does the narrator interrupt to tell us something about the scene.
TEWWG

Chap. 6 part 3
Sam Watson and Lige Moss’s conversation about the role of nature in the world strikes at the heart of the novel’s central theme: the relationship between humans and the world around them. The porch conversation is, in modern terms, a debate over nature versus nurture: whether we are as we are because of what we are born with (nature) or what we are taught (nurture). Sam Watson’s comment that “[God] made nature and nature made everything else” resonates throughout the novel, particularly at the climax, when all of the characters find themselves at the mercy of nature. Janie is attracted to these conversations because of the warm human connection that they offer and their organic, humorous approach to the questions that are at the center of her journey to the horizon. Her outburst at the end of the chapter represents an attempt to break out from Jody’s silencing control and join the world of the porch.
TEWWG

Chap. 7-8
These two chapters focus on the disintegration of Jody and Janie’s marriage, culminating in Jody’s death. Janie’s interest in the marriage has already waned by this point. She loses hope when it becomes clear that her relationship to Jody will not help her realize her dreams. Jody, on the other hand, loses everything, including the will to live, as soon as he loses the ability to exert control. Despite their obvious differences, Jody and Janie’s situations are, in a way, similar. Both realize that they have constructed lives that have not delivered the fulfillment that they expected. But Janie is able to survive her disillusionment and, by the end of Chapter 8, has begun to once again head in the direction of her dreams. Jody, however, doesn’t survive; in part, his destruction results from Janie’s reassertion of herself.
TEWWG

Chap. 7-8 part 2
In Chapter 6 we see how intimately Jody’s control is related to language. He uses language to belittle Janie while at the same time forcing her to remain silent. The one-sidedness of this dynamic is the only real tool left with which Jody can preserve the imbalance of power in his relationship with Janie. Jody tries to use his control of discourse to compensate for his physical deterioration and ultimate inability to control the world. His insults attempt to reshape the world around him by incorrectly describing Janie’s appearance while ignoring his own.

Janie’s two outbursts further underscore the importance of language. When she speaks, she asserts herself and her own power; this assertion, of course, deeply troubles Jody. Janie’s sharp retort in Chapter 7 about Jody’s feebleness completely shatters Jody’s misconceptions about the extent of his power: he is “robbed . . . of his illusion of irresistible maleness.” Janie has reversed their situations. Earlier, Jody prevents her from
TEWWG

Chap. 7-8 part 3
from speaking and asserting her identity; now, he himself is left without a voice: “Joe Starks didn’t know the words for all this, but he knew the feeling.” Stung by words, shown the limitations of his power, and robbed of his ability to speak, Jody breaks down. He resorts to physical violence—a display of beastliness—because his lofty aura has dissipated completely.

Jody’s disintegration is completed in Chapter 8, and, once again, he is undone by the power of Janie’s speech. She finally lashes out at him in full, expressing her feelings and criticizing his faults. Janie compromises the source of Jody’s power—his assumed superiority—rendering him impotent and weak. It is no coincidence that he dies as Janie finishes her scolding speech.

Janie’s first act of liberation after Jody’s death is to release her hair from the shackles of the head-rag. She reasserts her identity as beautiful and arousing woman—an identity that Jody had denied her by trying to suppress her sex appeal and
TEWWG

Chap. 7-8 part 4
making comments about her aging appearance. Her braid again functions as a phallic symbol, representing her potency and strength. Jody had kept Janie’s power tied up, but now she is free and can release it. But Janie’s act of tying her hair back up demonstrates that she understands that the community will judge her if she appears so carefree; unlike Jody, who exerts his authority without regard for others, Janie wields her power with restraint.
TEWWG

Chap. 9-10
Chapters 9 and 10 mark the beginning of Janie’s liberation. First, she learns how to be alone. Then, Tea Cake’s arrival brings her to a second stage in her development, as she begins to see what kind of relationship she wants and how it will help her attain her dreams. Throughout Chapter 9, Janie brims with independence and strength. We see her with her hair down, the symbol of her potency free and unfettered. Additionally, this chapter is full of Janie’s voice. Unlike the previous chapters, in which Jody forcibly keeps her silent, Janie is now full of conversation: she talks to Ike Green, Hezekiah, and Pheoby, all the while asserting her own desires.

As Janie enjoys her newfound freedom of speech, she becomes more introspective and self-aware.
TEWWG

Chap. 9-10 part 2
With Tea Cake, an entirely new worldview enters the story. Tea Cake clearly respects Janie for who she is and wants to engage her in a substantive manner. He converses with her and plays checkers with her—both activities that grant equal status to the participants. The substantial space that Hurston devotes to their conversation contrasts with Janie’s first meeting with Jody in Chapter 4.

Furthermore, Tea Cake exhibits a creativity that is immensely appealing to Janie.
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Chap. 11-12
Chapter 11 deepens our understanding of Janie’s attraction to Tea Cake. By the end of this chapter, Janie has begun to see him in mystical terms and has developed a conscious sense that he is the partner that she needs in order to travel to the horizon. Chapter 12 contrasts Janie’s attachment to Tea Cake with her relationship to the town as a whole and further explores Janie’s personal growth. Through her conversation with Pheoby Watson, we see that Janie has a clearer idea now than ever before of who she is and what she wants.
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Chap. 11-12 part 2
In Chapter 12, we see how Janie’s relationship with Tea Cake has superceded her desire to interact with the community around her. In Chapter 6, when Janie hungers to join the world of the porch-talkers, the community life of the town seems to offer the interaction missing from her isolated life with Jody. But Tea Cake now shows her an intimacy that she considers far more valuable. Whereas, earlier, the opinion of the town means a great deal to Janie, she has now gained such an amount of self-confidence and has been exposed to such a fulfilling relationship that she is able to dismiss the petty gossip of the town around her. The community, on the other hand, resents Janie and Tea Cake’s relationship precisely because it replaces the intimacy that the community offers; with Tea Cake, Janie has found a connection much deeper and truer than that which the porch offers.
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Chap. 11-12 part 3
Again we see that antagonism is not located in a particular person but rather is manifested in harmful systems of beliefs.

It is significant that all of these revelations come in the course of conversation; Hurston maintains her emphasis on speech interaction. Janie’s quest for self-discovery is literally a quest to find her own voice. Thus, it is important to note her description of Tea Cake’s meaning to her: “He done taught me the maiden language all over.” Janie’s love for Tea Cake is framed in terms of language: in helping her find her voice, he has given her the tools to understand her inner desires. Through her reciprocally rewarding relationship with Tea Cake, Janie has finally begun to take real steps toward the horizon.
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Chap. 13-14
Up to this point, the relationship between Janie and Tea Cake has seemed almost too good to be true. Chapters 13 and 14, while continuing to demonstrate that their relationship is a good experience for Janie, raise some complex questions about Tea Cake’s character. Their arrival in the Everglades is a moment of fulfillment for Janie as she finds herself surrounded by fertile nature. Overall, her experience is generally a fulfilling one. Nevertheless, Tea Cake manipulates her in subtle ways, raising, once again, the specter of male domination in her life.

Chapter 13 is marked by Tea Cake’s cruel absences from Janie. Although Janie accepts his explanations, it is hard to believe that someone as intelligent as Tea Cake could be so careless only a week after his wedding. His departure to go gambling seems likewise strange and needlessly risky. Yet after all her suffering in this chapter, Janie is more in love with Tea Cake than before; she feels a complete, powerful, “self-crushing love.”
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Chap. 13-14 part 2
Tea Cake has become a personification of all that she wants; her dreams and Tea Cake have become one and the same. In literary terms, this is a kind of metonymy, or substitution: Tea Cake has enabled Janie to begin her quest and, in the process, has become the goal of her quest.

Tea Cake stokes Janie’s desire by maintaining his distance from her. The old cliché “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is applicable; in more academic language, Janie’s desire is predicated on a lack of what she wants most. Tea Cake seems to manipulate this lack to make Janie love him more. In Chapter 14, he achieves something neither Logan nor Jody is able to accomplish: getting Janie to work out of her own free will. Having already shown her the pain of separation from him in Chapter 13, Tea Cake plays on this memory to make her want to work in the fields. One can also argue, however, that Tea Cake’s actions are not so manipulative. After all, part of his attractiveness stems from his wild, vivacious
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Chap. 13-14 part 3
perhaps his partying and gambling are simply manifestations of his character. Similarly, perhaps he is being genuine when he claims to be lonely during the day; neither the narrator nor Janie considers his intentions anything but honest.

In any case, it is important to remember that Tea Cake makes Janie genuinely happy. He continues to accord her respect and remains unthreatened by her empowerment. He teaches her to shoot a gun, another phallic object associated with masculine power, and remains undisturbed by the fact that she becomes more proficient than him. Unlike Jody, who forces Janie to conceal the masculine power that her hair embodies, Tea Cake encourages Janie’s strength. Finally, Janie’s time in the Everglades is filled with incredible richness
She is closer than ever before to the ideal of the pear tree, leading a satisfying life within rich, fertile nature.
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Chap. 13-14 part 4
This nearing toward her dream is perhaps the reason that Janie sticks with Tea Cake despite his lapses in judgment. He treats her terribly at times, taking her presence for granted and dominating her emotions. Although he clearly loves and needs her, he certainly possesses her more than she possesses him. Yet Janie doesn’t mind this inequality. This acceptance of inequality is related to the idea of gender differences postulated at the beginning of the novel. As becomes evident in subsequent chapters, Hurston implies that men have a fundamental need for possession that women lack. Because Tea Cake respects Janie so much, his occasional domination of her seems insignificant. In fact, it could be argued that Tea Cake’s domineering personality is what enables Janie to grow. He pulls her down to the Everglades without any input from her and it becomes the most fulfilling experience of her life.
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Chap. 15-16
The incident with Nunkie shows Janie’s need for absolute monogamy with Tea Cake. Because he wholly possesses her, she cannot bear the thought that she does not wholly possess him. Although the previous chapters establish the inequalities in their relationship, this chapter reveals that Janie is not willing to compromise on important matters; their relationship must be reciprocal. It is interesting to see how this reciprocity is expressed. At the first moment of reconciliation—the steamy passion that follows their fight—they express themselves through their bodies. Speech, however, remains the key to Janie’s strength and identity; despite their physical connection, Janie still needs Tea Cake to tell her that he doesn’t love Nunkie.
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Chap. 15-16 part 2
Through Janie’s interactions with Mrs. Turner, Chapter 16 provides the clearest perspective on issues of race in the novel. Many critics dismissed Their Eyes Were Watching God when it was first published because of its atypical discussion of race. At the time, most critics, black and white alike, expected a novel by a black author to deal with issues of race in stark, political terms. Hurston’s presentation of race and racism, however, is nuanced and remarkably free of political diatribe. When discussing Hurston’s perspective on race, one cannot underestimate the effect of Franz Boas and his anthropological outlook on her philosophy
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Chap. 15-16 part 3
Indeed, the narrator attributes near-cosmic significance to Mrs. Turner’s racism. In her obsession with whiteness, she “like all the other believers had built an altar to the unattainable,” the narrator reveals, which seems to be a comparison to Jody’s materialism and thirst for power. This comparison destabilizes the gender conventions that Hurston posits at the opening of the novel: Mrs. Turner, as men do, watches a metaphorical “Ships at a distance.” Hurston does not dogmatically bind herself to her own conception of gender differences. As Janie’s hair can be both a site of feminine beauty and a phallic symbol, Mrs. Turner can worship false gods like male characters.

The narrator’s meditation on Mrs. Turner’s racism also occasions stylistic variation. When describing ordinary events, the narrator often employs language that resonates with the dialect of the novel’s characters.
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Chap. 15-16 part 4
In the discussion of Mrs. Turner’s racism, however, the narrator’s voice loses the folksy tone and flies off into omniscient, high poetry. Here, Hurston indulges her command of pithy, almost biblical language

The display is impressive, but the stronger the language becomes, the greater the strain between it and the narrator’s other voice, which uses nouns as verbs and illustrates with barnyard metaphors. Their Eyes Were Watching God is framed as Janie’s telling of a story, but words in the text like “insensate,” “seraph,” and “fanaticism” seem to resist such a context. These words and the poetic passages in which they occur do not sound like they were filtered through Janie’s personality
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Chap. 15-16 part 5
The narration itself has two different styles. This difference is problematic if we expect the narrator to maintain one style. On the other hand, the novel self-consciously deals with the control of language and transgression of convention. Rigorous adherence to one style of narration may be as legitimate a target for transgression as traditional gender roles.
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Chap 17-18
Chapter 17 provides another glimpse of life in the muck, complicating our understanding of Janie and Tea Cake’s relationship just before the climactic arrival of the hurricane in Chapter 18. Tea Cake’s beating of Janie early in Chapter 17 is one of the most confusing incidents in the novel. Modern readers may be surprised that the beating has such little effect on Janie. It is tempting to attribute the briefness of Hurston’s treatment of the incident to the more tolerant attitude toward domestic violence that prevailed when Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God. Janie’s passive acceptance of the beating, however, relates to the development of her character. At this point in the story, the idea of silence becomes quite significant. Since Jody’s death, Janie has struggled to find her voice. Now that she has found it, she is learning to control it.
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Chap 17-18 part 2
In many ways, Chapter 18 is the book’s climax. The battle with the hurricane is the source of the book’s title and illuminates the central conflict of the novel: Janie’s quasi-religious quest to find her place in the world amid confusing, unpredictable, and often threatening forces. Throughout the novel, characters have operated under the delusion that they can control their environment and secure a place for themselves in the world. Jody, in particular, demonstrates the folly of this mindset in his attempts to play God. Tea Cake exhibits this folly as well. His ease in the natural environment—his mastery of the muck, his almost supernatural skill at gambling—has made him too proud; he feels that the storm is not a threat.
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Chap 17-18 part 3
But, of course, the storm humbles all. It is a force of pure destruction and chaos; furthermore, it is a force without a conscience or a consciousness. It is random and unfair, a cruel and devastating facet of a confusing universe. Throughout the novel, similar forces antagonize Janie: the doctrines to which Nanny, Logan, and Jody adhere; Mrs. Turner’s racism; the sexism of Eatonville’s men; and the gossip of the porch culture. Like the hurricane, these forces cause Janie pain but lack malicious intent. Janie can never defeat them, only bear them and perhaps survive them.

The episode in which Tea Cake, Janie, and Motor Boat wait out the storm is the most direct example of this conflict. Here we see the opposition between individual and environment described in the starkest terms: humans against God, Janie and her friends against nature. The conflict is framed in terms of community.
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Chap 19
Chapter 19 constitutes the final leg of Janie’s spiritual journey, and she suffers a great deal. In Chapter 16, the narrator notes that “[r]eal gods require blood,” and Janie’s trials here represent her final sacrifices on the path toward liberation and enlightenment. The first trial comes with Tea Cake’s being conscripted into the racist burial crew. In contrast with Hurston’s treatment of Mrs. Turner, this episode presents racism in more conventional terms: whites exerting their will on blacks. But again, the racism is presented more as an environmental force or cultural construct than an essential quality of any particular person. The white men remain nameless, and the racism seems more a product of the environment and the circumstances than anything else; Tea Cake and Janie are able to escape it by leaving the area.
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Chap 19 part 2
The second tribulation that Janie must face is Tea Cake’s disease and deterioration. Once again, Janie and Tea Cake are confronted not by a particular person but by an impersonal force: a disease that he contracts as a result of events that occur during the hurricane. The diseased Tea Cake, who flies into jealous rages, is the polar opposite of the man he once was, secure in the midst of the natural world and generally confident in his possession of Janie. In other words, this capricious force destroys Tea Cake’s very essence. The moment of Tea Cake’s death, though horrible for Janie to endure, reflects how much she has grown as a person and how secure she has become. Although Tea Cake means everything to her, she is able to kill him to save herself. Her relationship with him has brought her along the path of enlightenment, and now that she has achieved the horizon, she is strong enough to live on her own.
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Chap 19 part 3
The courtroom scene is Janie’s final trial. Here, she faces ostracism from the same community that nurtured her development and supported her during the hurricane, a penalty worse than any the court could impose: “It was not death she feared. It was misunderstanding.” She does not need the superficial acceptance in the gossip culture of the porch—she has already dismissed that world—but she needs the community to recognize the strength of her bond with Tea Cake as well as her own fortitude.

At this point, Hurston utilizes an unusual narrative device that has been the source of much debate about the novel. For most of the second half of the story, Janie speaks without interruption. She has found her voice, and language has become her means of exploring herself, asserting herself, and enjoying human interaction. But at the trial, H renders her silent. While speech has been rendered in bold, direct quotations throughout much of the novel, the narrator here summarizes J's statement.
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Chap 19 part 4
Some critics have argued that this shift reflects that Janie’s quest has gone unfulfilled, that she has not found her voice or the horizon. But other critics, notably Alice Walker, have argued, as Mary Ellen Washington recounts in the foreword to most modern editions of the book, that Janie’s silence reflects her mastery of her own voice. This perspective is in keeping with the interpretation of Janie’s passive acceptance of Tea Cake’s beating her in Chapter 17 as a sign of her strength.

In any event, Janie survives the trial, but, in a final, complex commentary on race, Janie is welcomed by the white women but shunned by the black community. Again, this reversal seems to reflect Hurston’s anthropological views on race: racism is a cultural construct and as such, black people are as susceptible (or potentially resistant) to its doctrines as anyone else. This final scene reinforces the broad view of humanity that informs the entire book: Janie’s quest is ultimately not specifically a
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Chap 19 part 5
black person’s quest or a woman’s quest (although her race and gender are certainly significant) but a fundamentally human one.
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Chap 20
The final chapter shows J at full strength and with the utmost self-assurance. She is able to reject the community that has treated her poorly and, of her own volition, return to Eatonville. The story comes full circle as Janie’s long narration catches up to the moment of her current conversation with Pheoby. This return to the opening of the novel mirrors J’s return home. The conversation, full of self-possession and sage advice, gives the impression that Janie has become a guru of sorts—indeed, Pheoby, having heard all about Janie’s fulfilling adventures, declares that she is no longer satisfied with her life. Janie has, as she claims, achieved the horizon and found her enlightenment.

That a bout of melancholy settles over Janie’s room is not a sign that she has failed to reach her horizon. Rather, it allows her to demonstrate the strength that she gained along her journey. J has already realized that suffering and sacrifice are necessary steps on the path toward self-discovery
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Chap 20 part 2
She has grown, struggled, and suffered; having found her voice, she is now able to begin anew. Although the body of her lover is gone, his legacy remains with her, in the person that she has become. She has achieved the unity with nature that she sought so long ago under the pear tree. Although the forces of the world may be unknowable and at times painful, she is at peace with them. Her act of “pull[ing] in her horizon” around herself reflects the harmony that she has finally established with the world around her. She has found true love, which has enabled her to find her voice.

This final image of Janie “pull[ing] in her horizon” contrasts with the opening image of men’s “[s]hips at a distance.” These metaphorical ships suggest that regardless of their ultimate success or failure, men dream of great accomplishments, of working on and changing their external worlds. Even i