Determinism vs. Free Will in "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

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Laura Lecarreaux
May 4, 2005
LIT 233/Section 09
Professor Carbonell

"'…but she don't seem to mind at all. Reckon dey understand one ‘nother.'" A woman's search for her own free will to escape the chains of other people in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.

In the continuing philosophical debate of free will versus determinism, the question arises as to whether or not free will exists. Do people really have the capability of making decisions on their own? OR Is life already determined, and whatever we do is (and always was) the only thing that we could have done at that time, conditions being what they were? Given the circumstances in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, I would argue that, while free will does exist, in my view, and a person can choose most of their actions through careful decision making, the main character, Janie, has the majority of her life planned out for her already. Whatever Janie does is governed by the laws of cause and effect; every one of her actions has a reaction. In Janie's quest to find herself, she does make some decisions on her own, but her decisions only lead her to her destiny, so, how can we say that Janie really has free will? The truth is that you cannot determine if Janie has free will or not. Even though it is a fiction novel, and the reader is aware that the author has Janie already figured out, we can still say that Janie does not have free will. Janie's actions are mainly determined for her by people, events, and other things out of her control. It is because of Janie's character and personality that the reader can know she does not have the complete power to take her life into her own hands. Janie is an African American woman which is enough to determine a heavy amount of her future for her. Hurston tries to give Janie a chance to think for herself, but, mostly, Janie does not have the power to take on these situations.

According to philosophy professor Steven M. Cahn,...
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