Zora Neale Hurston, in dealing with the female search for self-awareness in Their Eyes Were Watching God, has created a heroine in Janie Crawford. In fact, the female perspective is introduced immediately: "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). On the very first page of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the contrast is made between men and women, thus initiating Janie's search for her own dreams and foreshadowing the "female quest" theme of the rest of the novel. Detailing Janie's quest for self-discovery and self-definition, Hurston celebrates Janie as a role model for all by communicating her understanding of life's true meaning.
In finding life's true meaning, Janie underwent self-definition or what today is called self-actualization:
In 1954 an American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that all people are motivated to fulfill a hierarchical pyramid of needs. At the bottom of Maslow's pyramid are needs essential to survival, such as the needs for food, water, and sleep. The need for safety follows these physiological needs. According to Maslow, higher-level needs become important to us only after our more basic needs are satisfied. These higher needs include the need for love and 'belongingness', the need for esteem, and the need for self-actualization (In Maslow's theory, a state in which people realize their greatest potential) (All information by means of Encarta Online Encyclopedia).
It is ironic that a black female author of the late 1930's was able to write a novel exemplifying this very theme, well before its time. Although Hurston had Janie endure three marriages and a slew of hardships, the novel's protagonist finally reached the pinnacle in human existence. She had been a part of the loving harmony she had witnessed so early in her childhood. Janie was complete.
Janie Crawford is a black woman who asserts herself beyond expectation, with a persistence that characterizes her search for the love that she dreamt of as a girl. After witnessing the symbiotic relationship of a bee and a blossom, it dawned on her that there is much more to life and love than she had previously imagined. Soon after this enlightenment, Janie meets a young boy, Johnny Taylor and she allows him to kiss her over the fence. However, Janie's grandmother, Nanny also witnesses this kiss.
As a former slave, Nanny's idea of marriage is influenced by her social status. Back to the years of slavery and the years after emancipation, African-Americans couldn't get too much freedom, if any. Their white masters treated the African-American women as goods. In the social echelon of things, they were at the bottom of the society. In turn making them the "mules" of the world (14). Slavery had anchored Nanny's mind; she believed that the best thing that could happen to an African-American woman is to marry a man that she can depend on, a marriage that can provide protection. Nanny felt that Johnny Taylor was not that type of man because a trifling youth like him would ruin Janie's life. That is why Nanny had chose someone who is respectable. Because Janie was born as a free child, Nanny felt she didn't have to experience life the same way she or her mother did. Notwithstanding Janie believes that she should fulfill her own dream by marrying a man that she loves, and she disregards the importance of material wealth.
After hearing her grandmother's thoughts, Janie understands the societal status that her life has handed her, yet she is determined to...