In Their Eyes Were Watching God the individual desire of the protagonist was influenced by society but was not gained until she let go of her societal attachments. Zora Neale Hurston develops stereotypical communities in which the male figure has dominant attributes while the female character plays a more submissive role. Hurston places Janie into the category of the “expected” standard of a female. Through this role, Janie has to ultimately overcome the weight of the stereotypes that bind her to the ordinary and expected standards of a woman. Janie’s relationship with Joe Starks is a representation of the societal norms and expectations that control her ability to think for herself, while her relationship with Tea Cake depicts her releasing of those expectations. The intertwining of these two attachments attribute to Janie’s introspection and allows her to finally be able to realize her individual desire.
As Joe Starks lay on his death bed Janie realized she did not truly love him. “All dis bowin’down, all dis obedience under yo’ voice—dat ain’t whut Ah rushed off down de road tuh find out about you.” (87) The attachment or relationship that Janie and Joe had was materialistic while Tea Cake’s and Janie’s relationship was more of freedom and youthfulness. The relationship with Joe guided Janie to the realization of her individual desire while her involvement with Tea Cake helped her to achieve the goal she aspired to achieve within herself. Hurston’s usage of the characters aided in the reflective nature Janie exhibited towards the end of the novel. “It’s uh known fact, Pheoby, you gottuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh…. They got tuh find out about livin’ fuh themselves.” (192) Hurston sets these two characters in a paradoxical sense, because both characters work in opposite ways to achieve one common goal (which is the introspection of Janie and her realization of her true desire) Joe and Tea Cake...
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