8 February 2007
Their Eyes Were Watching God: Quest for Freedom
Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in the town of Eatonville, Florida. Her parents were Reverend John Hurston and Lucy Ann Potts Hurston. Hurston was one of eight children, and her mother, Lucy Hurston, passed away when Zora was only thirteen years old. This left Hurston and the rest of her family in a very emotionally unstable position. Hurston’s novelist career launched in the 1930s. In 1937, Hurston published what many critics say is her best novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. The novel's theme revolves around a young black woman’s search for a personal freedom beyond what she had ever experienced before. Personal freedom is universally sought. Some people search for their freedom by opening themselves up to new adventures. Others might seek freedom by turning to God and living a religious life. In this novel, the main character Janie searches for her freedom throughout her three marriages. In Zora Neale Hurston’s book Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie’s quest to find personal freedom is portrayed through her marriages.
Janie’s first marriage is to Logan Killicks. Logan Killicks is an older man, and a farmer. He is very hardheaded and unromantic towards Janie. When Janie moves in with Logan, she is clearly miserable. “Logan Killicks disgusts Janie sexually, but has a pedestal for her to stand on. To be precise, sixty acres of land and a nice house” (Cantarow 318). Janie marries Logan because she feels as if she has no choice. “Her grandmother (Nanny) directs Janie’s entrance into adulthood. Born into slavery, the older woman hopes to find protection and materialistic comforts for Janie in a marriage to the property-owning Logan Killicks.” (Kaplan 1395). By Janie being forced to marry, it is already shown that she has no freedom of her own. “Although she hopes loves will follow marriage, Janie is soon disappointed, for Logan grows more rather than less distasteful to her.” (Domina 313).
Logan soon begins to treat Janie like a “mule” and forces her to do work on the farm. “He refuses to bathe regularly and soon suggests that Janie should help him with the plowing.” (Domina 313). “Hurston justifies Janie’s abandonment of her first marriage, not on grounds that Janie feels no love for Killicks, but because Killicks decides to buy a mule for Janie to work the fields with.” (Crabtree 315). By Logan deciding to buy Janie a mule to do work with, Janie realizes that she has no freedom with Logan, which prompts her leaving him.
Logan eventually begins to insult Janie’s family history. This forces her to leave him once and for all. Janie soon meets Joe Starks. He invites her to join him to go to a town full of “colored folks” called Eatonville. “Because Logan begins to insult Janie’s family history, she decides to leave him for Joe, who initially seems more considerate and companionable.” (Domina 313).
Janie’s second marriage, and second attempt to find her personal freedom, is to Joe Starks. Janie moves with Joe to an all African American town, Eatonville, Florida. Janie was hesitant to go, but was persuaded by Joe to take a chance for adventure. Janie soon realizes that life with Joe is everything but exciting.
Joe begins to use Janie just to show her off. “Janie realizes that Joe perceives her simply as his trophy. He will be mayor of the new town, and she will be nothing more or less than the mayor’s wife.” (Domina 313). “Janie’s attracted to his exuberance, his sweet talk, and a power she sees in him. So she goes off with him and marries him and for a while she lives vicariously off that power. But Joe, like Logan before him, considers Janie as a possession.” (Cantarow 318).
Joe starts to forbid Janie from having an opinion on things and speaking her mind. “Like Killicks, Joe dictates Janie’s work and prevents her from being a full participant in the social life of the town.”...
Cited: Bone, Robert. “Zora Neale Hurston.” The Chelsea House Library of Literary Criticism. Vol. 4. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.
Cantarow, Ellen. “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Novels for Students. Vol. 3. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1998.
Crabtree, Claire. “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Novels for Students. Vol. 3. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1998.
Domina, Lynn. “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Novels for Students. Vol. 3. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1998.
Kaplan, Deborah. “Zora Neale Hurston.” Critical Survey of Long Fiction.Vol. 4. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1983.
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