Their Eyes Were Watching God: Janie's Quest for Love

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In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, the main character, Janie Crawford, is on a quest to find true love. Like many people, she begins her journey not knowing what love is. Janie encounters many obstacles in her quest for love. Even when she finds love with Tea Cake, more obstacles challenge their relationship. "de very prong all us … gits hung on. Dis love! Dat's just whut's got us uh pullin' and uh haulin' and sweatin' and doin' from can't see in de mornin' till can't see at night" (22). But, what is true love, and how does one know when they have found it? Janie’s first significant romantic experience occurred one spring, at the age of sixteen, when she observed bees pollinating a pear tree. She saw the dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid” (11). Although her sexual awakening is normal at this age, Janie’s matrimonial interpretation of the natural occurrence, though illustrative of the sexual aspect of marriage, is ignorant at best. “The problem is that Janie translates the remarkable love she feels for and through the natural world into a metaphor for … marriage” (Bealer). This event left her seeking answers about life and love. “She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her”(11). As a result she found herself kissing Johnny Taylor, a local boy whom she saw as “shiftless” until “ … the golden dust of pollen had beglamored his rags in her eyes”(12).

Janie’s grandmother, a former slave, also had a misguided impression of love. Rather, she felt respectability, not love, is the more important aspect of a husband. After catching Janie kissing Johnny, Nanny arranges for her to marry Logan Killicks; a much older man who, Nanny believes, will provide her granddaughter with the security her and her children never had. “Tain’t Logan Killicks Ah wants you to have … it’s protection” (15). Initially, Janie rejects Logan as well as Nanny’s outlook on marriage: She was borned in slavery time when folks, dat is black folks, didn't sit down anytime dey felt lak it. So sittin' on porches lak de white madam looked lak uh mighty fine thing tuh her. Dat's whut she wanted for me--don't keer whut it cost. Git up on uh high chair and sit dere. She didn't have time tuh think whut tuh do after you got up on de stool tuh do nothin'. De object wuz tuh git dere (172). However, considering her grandmother’s age and desire to see Janie married before she died, Janie agrees to the arrangement, despite her objections, under the misconception that she would eventually learn to love Logan. Being naive as she was, she tentatively accepted Nanny’s notion of love in marriage and “went … to wait for love to begin” (22). Janie realized quickly, however, that she was not growing any fonder of her husband. “Some folks never was meant to be loved and he’s one of ‘em” (24). When she confronts Nanny about her lack of affection for Logan, Janie is told to “leave things the way dey is ... Yo mind will change” (24). It is then that Janie resolves that she cannot be satisfied with her life as it is. She feels that in her marriage to Logan "she had been set in the market-place to sell" (138). This, as Baker puts it, “[Implies] that her ‘respectable’ marriage smacked of prostitution or slavery” (Baker). Janie is unhappy simply being the object of affection. She longed for what she felt laying under the pear tree. In many respects, the tension to be resolved in the Nanny-Janie argument … is presented in the novel as two competing perspectives on reality: Janie's romantic vision, and her grandmother's prag-matic grounding in reality. They … have different...
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