Janie and Jody, Conflict and Freedoom: Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Janie and Jody, Conflict and Freedom: Their Eyes Were Watching God In the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God written by Zora Neale Hurston, the protagonist, Janie, and her husband for a respectable portion of her life, Jody Starks, seek courtship for entirely different reasons. Janie pursues sexual and emotional fulfillment as she journeys to the horizon and to a place of limitless possibility, while the male domineering Jody Starks seeks only after power, control, and a good place in society. These dramatic differences in ideals of love are the source of conflict between Janie and Jody and utterly shift Janie’s understanding of freedom and what it means to be free. Their different outlooks also lead to their downfall as a couple, and the downfall of Jody Starks as a man.

The novel begins at the end of Janie’s journey. She has returned to Eatonville a strong and proud woman who has already been “tuh de horizon and back,” but at the beginning of the story, Janie is completely unsure of who she is and how she wants to live. When she tells her story to Phoeby, she begins with her revelation under the blossoming pear tree, giving the reader an immediate sense of Janie’s deepest desires. Under the pear tree, Janie is inspired by the images of springtime. Sitting under the tree she sees the tree, a representation of the female, passively waiting for a bee, or the male, to penetrate its flowers. Janie resonates with this springtime moment of sexuality, and for the remainder of the book, the pear tree functions as her standard of sexual and emotional fulfillment. She says, "Ah wants things sweet wid mah marriage lak when you sit under a pear tree and think. Ah…" (23).

At this point, Janie knows that she wants to achieve this type of love, but she is unable to articulate what she wants. When first introduced to Joe Starks, Janie is immediately drawn to his grand ambitions. He tells Janie that he is from Georgia, that he has saved up a great deal of money, and that he has come down to Florida to move to a new town that is being built and run by blacks. Janie is distracted, blinded, and dazzled by his big dreams. To Janie, Jody exudes possibility and freedom because he surges with ambition and power. He talks about the future, travel, and conquering land. These ideas seem like a direct connection between Janie and her reaching of the far horizon. At first, Janie is so blinded by Jody’s ambition that she neglects to see his hunger for power and control. For the remainder of his time in the novel, Jody Starks stands as a symbol of masculine aggression and power. He attempts to gain power by purchasing, controlling, and dominating the world around him. However, Janie learns soon enough that Jody’s mannerisms and his way of interacting with the world do not provide happiness and fulfillment to her. At this point in the novel, though, she is overcome by the ambition Jody exudes and believes that it can be the key to a better life for her. Jody’s male dominance and desire for power is made noticeable to the reader in the beginning of chapter five of the novel when Jody and Janie finally arrive in the Florida town that Jody seeks to conquer. After introducing himself to a few of the men of Eatonville, Jody learns that Eatonville does not have a mayor and only contains fifty acres of land. At hearing this, Jody, hungry for power, makes a big show of paying cash for an additional two acres of land for Eatonville. This flaunting of his wealth is a red flag to the reader, alerting him/her of Jody’s intense craving for absolute control. Janie, completely submerged in her dreams of possibility and freedom, is oblivious to the red flag and admires Jody’s leadership. However, Jody’s desire for power and control intensifies and becomes more and more noticeable when he announces his plans to build a store and a post office in Eatonville. He calls a town meeting where he does all of the talking. He hires a few...
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