In the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, author Zora Neale Hurston shines light on to the harsh reality of the life of an African American woman during the early 20th century. Women of this time were accustomed to feeling silenced and powerless by their male counterparts. This idea especially pertains to protagonist, Janie Crawford. Janie lived through an arranged marriage with Logan Killicks before meeting Joe Starks. Joe promised the liberating life that Janie was seeking for some time, until it was clear that Joe’s promises were made up of lies. The couple pursued their lives in Eatonville, Florida, where Joe would become mayor.
The daily life of Janie in Eatonville consisted mainly of being in charge of one of the only supermarkets that resided in the town, where elderly men would consume each others stories on the porch. Such stories included vulgarities against women, and painted out men to be the “superhero”. Janie does the complete opposite, making herself the prime identity in her stories, once she becomes the narrator of her own story. Janie exemplifies the idea of what women of the time wished to achieve. Hurston begins to tell the story with the voice of two narrators, Janie and the unknown narrator who resembles Janie. Hurston’s use of a different narratives to further express the story in Janie’s eyes supports the idea that Their Eyes Were Watching God can be considered a feminist novel.
The anonymous speaker in Their Eyes Were Watching God can be seen as Janie’s second, hidden voice. At times the audience is given the sense that the narrator and Janie are the same person because of the deep insight of her thoughts. This can be observed when Janie comments on Jody’s personality calling it “tumbled down and shattered” (Hurston 72). In this specific instance the narrator is knowledgeable of what is occuring in the mind of the protagonist, giving her the voice that is so deeply repressed due to society. This deep insight can be seen when the speaker explains that Janie knew the reality of marriage and how “she knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman” (31). Janie’s concealed voice is again spoken through the voice of the narrator, giving the reader the impression of Janie slowly unraveling her inner thoughts.
The dialect in Their Eyes Were Watching God is used as well to further emphasize the liberation of Janie. The narrator exemplifies a tone that allow the audience to take Janie’s sentiments as her own. At the beginning of the novel, while Janie has just recently returned to Eatonville, she feels “like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches” (8). The vision of liberation and new beginnings is shared between the narrator and Janie, as if these feelings are more meaningful in the future of the novel, then at the beginning.
While in her elongated marriage with Joe, Janie is constantly picturing a life where she was not confined by a man. The unknown narrator explains that Janie “sat and watched the shadow of herself going about tending store and prostrating itself before Jody, while all the time she herself sat under a shady tree with the wind blowing through her hair and her clothes. Somebody near about making summertime out of lonesomeness.” (77). The concept of Janie being so deeply incarcerated by Joe, that she has to picture herself being free in her mind is frightening. The sudden switch of narration in this chapter creates an easily comprehensible idea of the enclosing relationship that Janie resides in. Janie coexists with Joe until he passes away, and meets Tea Cake.
This relationship, that seems straight out of a fairytale is key to the change of narration throughout the later stages of the novel. One prime example is when Janie becomes upset with Tea Cake, regarding Nunkie, a flirtatious girl, making Janie jealous. The speaker conveys that Janie “walked slowly and thoughtfully to the quarters. It wasn’t long before Tea Cake found her and tried to talk….‘You done hurt mah heart, now you come wid uh lie tuh bruise mah ears! Turn go mah hands.’ Janie seethed But Tea Cake never let go” (138). The anonymous narration is cut off early during the duration of Janie and Tea Cake’s relationship, and Janie takes over the narration, this is what make it more of Janie’s story instead of some man, further influencing the feminist side of the novel.
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