Their Eyes Were Watching God Analysis

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“The Power Struggle in African American Marriages”
Zora Neale Hurston is recognized as one of the key contributors to the Harlem Renaissance that occurred during the 1920s and 1930s. Her multitudes of literary works explore and celebrate African American culture and heritage without directly addressing the subject of racism which was prevalent during this time. Hurston incorporates both the positive and negative aspects of African American culture into her stories in order to give a true depiction to her audience. In a number of her works, including “Sweat” and Their Eyes Were Watching God, domestic violence plays a very frequent role in marriages. Husbands would hit their wives to establish their power in the relationship, even when the wives did not do anything to deserve such cruel brutality. In Hurston’s short story, “Sweat”, oppression of women in the black community is demonstrated through the marriage of Delia and Sykes Jones. In another of her short stories, “The Gilded Six-Bits”, Hurston writes about a married couple who is completely in love and share a balance of power in the relationship. In 1937, Hurston published one of her more well-known works, Their Eyes Were Watching God. The novel is about a young African American girl, Janie Crawford, and her journey from a young girl into an independent woman. This transformation is gradually seen through her three marriages. Although each of the marriages was very different from one another, they all shared the same underlying conflict: a power struggle between genders.

Due to the death of her mother at an early age, Janie is raised by her grandmother who grew up as a slave. Nanny, her grandmother, is extremely dissatisfied with the way that black women are treated. She explains to Janie that the white men oppress the black men who then oppress the black women. It is a brutal cycle that forces black woman to act as the “mules” by doing all of the hard work (14). In order to protect Janie from this oppression, Nanny forces the sixteen year old girl to marry Logan Killicks. Before the wedding, Janie tries to convince herself she will be happy when she thinks, “Husbands and wives always loved each other, and that was what marriage meant.” (21). Nanny has the opposite view of marriage as Janie; Nanny views marriage as a contract in which the couple does not have to be in love. Many years older than Janie, Logan is a dull farmer who owns sixty acres of land. After almost a year of being married to Logan, Janie is disheartened by the fact that she still does not love him. As time passes, Logan gradually begins to oppress Janie. At the beginning of the marriage, he would chop the firewood and bring it indoors to Janie. Then, he started expecting Janie to chop the firewood herself and bring it into the house. He not only demands Janie to serve him in the home by preparing his meals and cleaning, but he also expects Janie to serve him in the field by plowing or moving cow manure. One day when Janie is in the kitchen cooking dinner, Logan yells at her to move some cow manure. Janie refuses his order by saying that she is in her place in the kitchen. Logan verbally exerts his power over his wife as he tells her, “You ain’t got no particular place. It’s wherever Ah need yuh.” (31). He also expresses his power through violence when he threatens Janie by telling her that he will kill her with an ax if she talks back to him again. To Logan, Janie is just an object that he can utilize for labor and chores. He even plans to buy Janie her own mule so that she can plow the fields as well. The irony of this is that Nanny only wanted Janie to marry Logan so that Janie would not have to be worked like a “mule”. When Logan is gone for the day to pick up the mule, Janie meets a man by the name of Joe Starks (Jody). She is very fascinated by this confident and charming man. When Jody hears that Logan is making her plow the fields, he is appalled. He convinces...
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