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Zora Neale Hurston

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In addition to the frequent references to nature, certain animals have symbolic weight in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The animal with the greatest symbolic charge in this novel is the mule. Mentioned frequently throughout “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, the mule obviously represents the carrier of heavy loads and burdens, but it can also, and does, represent stubborn resistance. The mule serves to illustrate the strained relationship between Janie and Joe Starks. The figure of the mule can also refer not only to Janie herself but to any black woman struggling for independence. Janie identifies with the mule, which remains stubbornly independent despite its masters efforts to beat it down. Ironically, while Jody's position in the city gives him the power to free the mule, his pride and ambition cause him to virtually enslave his wife. He can free Janie only by his death. The mule is also a symbol of the control that men have over things. Watson’s mule was worked hard and was not fed properly so he didn’t look healthy. Women are associated with this mule because the men in Eatonville made them work hard and they were not treated fairly (49). Some of the women in the town worked just as hard as the men and they were not allowed to enjoy a lot of the things men got to. The men liked to relax on the porch and play checkers. None of the women got to participate in these activities. This segregation was unfair to the women of Eatonville. Janie can sympathize with the mule because she has undergone the same hardships making the reader think back to Nanny identifying the black woman as the mule of the world. Following Janie’s comment, Jody purchases the mule to live out its days without work. It is only when she tells her tale to Phoeby from the female space of the back porch that her audience is aware that Janie is calling attention to the enslaved condition of women (102).

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel that was written by an African American author, Zora Neale Hurston. The book was launched in 1937 and primarily focuses on the life experiences of the protagonist Janie Crawford (Bloom 59). The story is set in central and southern Florida and epitomizes Janie’s search for self-awareness through love and relationships (Bowers 83). At the heart of the entire narration are the three marriages that Janie has gone through. The story analyses the quest for fulfillment, self-awareness and freedom by the main character through the experiences she had specifically in her three respective marriages. The story is told of her through a comprehensive flashback of her closest ally, Pheoby. The plot emanates in manner that after her extensive marriages, it becomes the role of Pheoby to narrate the story to the unaccommodating crowd (Scott 49). The book is an account of Janie’s struggle for self-awareness and fulfillment and the things she went through in order to achieve that.
Janie was brought up by her grandmother after the disappearance of her mother upon her birth. Her mother had a lot of expectations in her daughter. When she escaped she passed all these expectations upon Janie. Hence, she wanted Janie to live a life that she has never lived. As a result, she married her to a Logan Killicks, an older farmer (Snodgrass 12). However, Janie became so miserable since she did not get the love that she wanted. She eloped with a sweet talking man called glib Jody Starks to another place where they get married. Jody was a wealthy man who is also a political leader (Hermes et al 64). He treats Janie as a trophy woman. Most of his treatments are not accepted by her but she perseveres until her marriage ends. After her second marriage, Janie is financially independent. Therefore, she rejects the many suitors who come her way but falls in love with Vergible Woods and they get married (Levine and Novel Units, Inc. Staff 25). Eventually, Janie becomes so happy since she gets the love and freedom that she needed. In fact woods treat her as an equal and she enjoy she marriage so much. Conversely, after being bitten by a rabbit during the hurricane, woods tries to shoot Janie but Janie manages to shoot her in self defense. The end of the third marriages wraps up the experiences of Janie (Lester 76). She returns home to a very anxious neighborhood. She relies on Pheoby to tell her story.
I find the book to be very constructive in its presentation of the themes and styles. Essentially, the author manages to provide several subjects to the reader through Janie’s experiences (McMahand 70). I tend to believe that the experiences of Janie are synonymous with those of many other people especially women of African American descent. So, the book perfectly epitomizes the quest for fulfillment and the inherent price towards the achievement of such an endeavor.
The book is written in a very distinctive manner (Collins 36). The use of language is most significant. Actually, the author uses African American ascent of English. Perhaps this is to exemplify the setting of his plot. Basically, the book has been criticized for employing African American English in language. Subsequently, the book has been written in a reflective manner. In fact the experiences of Janie fully epitomize the personal experiences of the author. The protagonist is a refection of the author. The book has also been written in a flashback method through Janie’s close friend. This is also an attribute that is worth to note (Minds 76). Fundamentally, the book has a unique style of presentation. And the author has exemplified a number of themes through her way of writing.
The title was chosen so as to exemplify the society’s reaction to the life experiences of Janie. Perhaps it was the crowds whose eyes were watching God (Awkward 29). Eyes Were Watching God explores a number of themes. These include is love and Relationships versus sovereignty, Power and subjugation as Means to accomplishment as well as Language: dialogue and Silence (Linde 41). Janie was driven by her quest for love, awareness and independent. Throughout her respective three marriages we see Janie fighting for these three things. Even when the marriages broke she never gave up (Wall 91). This was primarily due to her strong will to be free and live an independent life. Eventually, she finds these three aspects in her third marriage. For this reason, she becomes very happy. Even after her third husband death, she finds her ultimate happiness (Koss et al 11). Several techniques are used by the author. First is language. This is very central to the themes thus explored by the author. Her use of silence and speech as language coincides with the protagonist pursuit of awareness and independence. The weather plays a very definitive role in the evolution of the plot of the story. The great Okeechobee hurricane brings the end of Janie’s third marriage (Hurston 31). In as much as Janie and Tea Cake survive the incident marks the beginning of the end of the marriage. Teacake is bitten by a rabid saving Janie from drowning. This leads to the shooting incident where Teacake dies.
Janie arranges a beautiful funeral for Tea Cake in Palm Beach and then moves back to Eatonville. The narration returns to the porch with Pheoby where it began in the first chapter. Janie says she has been to the horizon and back; she knows now that, "you got tuh go there tuh know there...Two things everybody got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves." Janie then tells Pheoby to explain her story to the townspeople; perhaps they will learn a little about love from her experiences.
Janie climbs the stairs to her bedroom with her nightlamp. Tea Cake is not dead; while Janie is living, he will live on in her memory. Janie finally finds peace; she pulls in the horizon like a great net and drapes it over her shoulders. "So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see."

Major Themes
Their Eyes were Watching God is in many ways a novel about Janie's sexual awakening. Because it was written in the conservative 1930s, much of this sexuality is masked in metaphor. When Janie finally finds a "bee for her blossom," it is the man that she has been most sexually attracted to in her life. Hurston takes a naturalist approach to sexuality. Unlike her grandmother, Nanny, who sees sexuality as threatening and destabilizing and punishes Janie for kissing a boy, Hurston sees it as an integral part of identity. Janie's sexuality is linked to nature from the very beginning. She learns about it from bees, rather than from a human mentor.
Power, specifically black power, was an issue of great importance to the Harlem Renaissance writers. Various characters in Their Eyes were Watching God have different notions about the best way to gain power in a white-dominated world. Nanny's idea is that her granddaughter should marry a wealthy man so that she doesn't have to worry about her financial security. Joe gains power in the same way that whites traditionally did, by gaining a position of leadership (the mayorship) and using it to dominate others. However, Janie finds that the type of power that she prefers in a man is personal, rather than constructed. She thinks that a person's power is derived not from their material possessions, but from their personal experiences, and their manner of relating to others.
Black Autonomy
One of the most politically notable aspects of Their Eyes were Watching God, a decidedly apolitical novel, is the concept of black autonomy. Jim Crow laws were still in effect in the South during the 1930s, keeping blacks and whites in seperate schools, churches, and bathrooms. Eatonville, the town in which Zora Neale Hurston grew up, was famous as the first all-black incorporated municipality in the country. Hurston's novel is a ringing affirmation of black autonomy, portraying a town with a black mayor, post office, and so on. But she questions the methods of the leader of this town, concerned with whether he achieved power through traditionally white avenues.
Hurston was by no means a capitalist, but this does not mean that she was unaware of some of the evils of capitalism. The easiest way to divide the "good" and "bad" characters in this novel is to ask which characters value material possessions. Nanny, Logan, and, to a certain extent, Joe, all value goods because they see how hard it is for African-Americans to attain them. However, their goods only make these characters look foolish. Joe's golden spittoons are a pitiable attempt to approximate the fashions of his white former bosses. Hurston is careful to draw the connection between characters like Janie and Tea Cake and nature, rather than consumable goods.
The distinction between activities appropriate for men and those appropriate for women is strongly drawn in the first half of this novel. Janie is prohibited from speaking her mind, playing checkers, and attending mule funerals. Hurston suggests that these gender constructions are absurd, however. One of Tea Cake's most appealing characteristics is that he empowers Janie to break these rules. Tea Cake encourages her to work, play checkers, speak out, fish, and shoot a gun.
Appearance of Race
There is a high incidence of African-Americans with mixed black and white descent in this novel. Janie's mother, Leafy, was the product of a rape by a plantation master, and was visibly white enough to garner punishment of Nanny by the plantation master's wife. Janie is described as having coffee-colored skin, and Hurston is careful to describe the degree of blackness of all of her characters. Caucasian characteristics can have a positive (Janie's shiny hair) or negative (Mrs. Turner's pointed nose and thin lips) effect on the character's attractiveness. Hurston is consistent on one point, however, and that is that people who try to look like something that they are not (usually whiter than they are) always end up looking terrible.
Janie differs from many of the other characters in Their Eyes were Watching God in that she is financially stable throughout the book with a fair amount of money in the bank. Therefore, for Janie, work is isolated from making money, and depends entirely on the nature of the labor. Contrary to most people, she enjoys laboring in the field more than clerking in a shop (despite the fact that the latter is "higher class") because it allows her to be near nature and the man that she loves. Janie's naturalism extends beyond her sexuality to include which type of labor she prefers.

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