Their Eyes Were Watching God Essay: Good Things Do Not Come to Those Who Wait
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston follows the life of Janie Crawford as she searches for love, life experience, and “her horizon”. Central to the plot are Janie’s marriages to three men, Logan, Joe and Tea Cake. Each relationship presents different challenges for Janie. However, despite her lack of attraction for her partners or distrust in their relationships, Janie is still very reliant on each man she marries to aid her in her journey through life.
When a relationship doesn’t work out, instead of being independent, Janie simply waits until another man comes along to help her continue her journey. Janie’s passive mindset sparks the debate whether or not Janie is a feminist. As literary critic Harris states, “Janie lacks the ability to determine her own fate”. Despite her desire to have experiences and live an adventurous life, Janie relies solely on her husbands and God to guide her. Janie’s “passive” mindset prevents her from “changing her life” (Harris). Janie’s total release of control over her own life and her obedient acceptance of gender roles disable her in her quest for her horizon, something she searches for from the beginning of the novel.
Throughout the book, Janie’s passive mindset towards life causes her to wait instead of taking action, blindly accept gender roles, and to always remain loyal to her husbands, which make her powerless and reliant on her spouses and God in her journey through life.
Janie’s inability to take action causes her to wait passively for opportunity and answers in life. After Janie’s sexual awakening, at a young age she realizes that she is ready for her life to begin and to get married. However, instead of setting out in the world to make a living or meet someone, Janie sits around “looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made” (11). From the beginning of the novel, Janie is constantly “waiting” and waiting “impatiently” at that. Despite her restless desire for change, Janie waits for something to happen instead of making it happen herself.
As Haris states, it is not unfeminist of Janie to want “the world to be made” by getting married, rather it is Janie’s “ waiting-for-my-hero-to-come mode into which Janie seems to be locked for most of her life”. Although this passive action occurs early on in Janie’s journey, during her life she continuously waits for someone else to give her answers. As time passes and Janie matures, she marries Logan, then Joe, and finally Tea Cake. After being together for a short time, Tea Cake runs away, leaving Janie upset and confused. Instead of investigating or thinking about their relationship, Janie removes Tea Cake and herself from the situation entirely and asks God. Janie prays to God asking,“please suh, don't let him love nobody else but me.
Maybe Ah'm is uh fool, Lawd, lak dey say, but Lawd, Ah been so lonesome, and Ah been waitin', Jesus. Ah done waited a long time”(120). By putting her faith in the hands of God, Janie relinquishes her control over her own life. She completely ignores her individual power and ability to do whatever she wants in this situation. Despite this event, Janie and Tea Cake’s relationship continues to progress and they settle into their new life in Jacksonville. After living there for a while, a threat of a hurricane begins to loom. While escaping the hurricane, Tea Cake gets rabies from a dog. As Tea Cake is dying, Janie feels helpless and decides that “it wasn't anything she could fight”(178).
Once again, Janie looks to God and decides, “she could only ache and wait. Maybe it was some big tease and when He saw it had gone far enough He'd give her a sign. She looked hard for something up there to move for a sign”(178). Although she could make peace with her unfortunate situation, Janie blames God and looks to him “for a sign”. Instead of taking action, Janie decides that her situation “wasn’t anything she could fight” and essentially gives up. Janie lacks the ability to make decisions for herself and “determine her own fate” because of her lulled and passive outlook on seeking change for herself.
Janie and Gender Roles
Janie’s passive acceptance of gender roles cause her to be powerless in her relationship with her first husband Logan and eventually fall victim to societal ideals that initially prevent her from being with Tea Cake. After being married for a brief time, Logan asks Janie if she wants to work in the fields and Janie replies,“You don't need mah help out dere, Logan. Youse in yo' place and Ah'm in mine” (31). Janie’s blatant disregard of her own ability and her passive attitude towards gender roles are a prime example of Janie’s internal monologue. In this moment, it is clear that Janie has no desire change gender roles and is quite comfortable abiding by them.
She also reinforces stereotypes surrounding masculinity putting Logan in his “place”. Janie eventually leaves Logan and runs away with Joe, who dies of old age. Soon after Joe’s death, Janie meets Tea Cake and is very conflicted about her feelings for him. In fact, “she even ridiculed him in her mind and was a little ashamed of the association … But every hour or two the battle had to be fought all over again … He was a Glance from God” (106). Janie knows that she is attracted to Tea Cake, but is “ashamed” of herself and her feelings and does not embrace them. Janie is constantly fighting a “battle” within herself instead of accepting her feelings. Janie allows town gossip that a woman of her age should not be with a man like him because, “he looked too young for her” get in her head, making her “ashamed of the association” she has with Tea Cake(100).
Despite her true feelings, she initially ignores them and choses to instead “ridicule him”. After Tea Cake’s death, at the novel’s close, despite life's challenges, Janie feels at peace with her life and with Tea Cake’s death, regardless of how he died. However, Janie credits all that is good in her life to Tea Cake saying “Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl… was peace”(193). She explains that the “shawl” is her “horizon”, something that she has been searching for for her entire life. Throughout the story, Janie was optimistic but not driven to achieve her goals.
So, when she met Tea Cake, “it was the beginning of things” (107). Therefore, despite all the challenges she and Tea Cake faced, Janie still idolizes him and believes that he gave her her horizon, something that her attitude disabled her in getting for herself. This is why she feels at peace, not because of all she has done. In her opinion, now that Tea Cake is dead, Janie no longer has a way to experience life, therefore she chooses to settle down. Once again, Janie accepts gender roles by crediting everything to her late husband and giving up now that he is gone. Janie’s inability to challenge gender stereotypes and norms in society leave her easily manipulated by society’s ideas, which leaves her powerless in her own life.
Janie’s blind loyalty and faithfulness towards Tea Cake contribute to her inability to challenge his dominant role in their relationship, resulting from her passivity in their relationship earlier on in the book. After being married for a short time, Tea Cake goes out gambling for a long time. Janie is initially calm, but after a long period of time passes she begins to be “scared and miserable. Thinking and fearing all sorts of dangers”(125). However, concludes that “[gambling] was part of him, so it was all right” (125). Although Janie knows that Tea Cake is acting crazy, she justifies his actions, thus devaluing her “scared and miserable” thoughts.
Janie accepts that her role is staying at home worrying, while Tea Cake goes wild. This acceptance is a prime example of Janie’s internalization and inability to fight gender roles. After Janie and Tea Cake have been married for a brief time, they encounter their first true conflict. Janie explains that, “before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss” (147).
Although Janie doesn’t say anything to Tea Cake, her description and thoughts about the abuse indicate Janie’s lack of respect for herself. Janie describes the abuse as not “brutal” and just “to show he [Tea Cake] was boss”. Even though Tea Cake abuses Janie “to show who is boss” and as a way to express his masculinity and pride, Janie remains faithful and accepts this as normal. Her lack of opinion or response leads to a disturbing, unmerited normalization of Tea Cake’s behavior. Janie’s loyal attitude towards Tea Cake is dangerous and portrays Janie’s lack of conviction in any situation.
As Janie goes through life, her complacent attitude enables her “waiting for my prince to come” mindset, her acceptance of gender roles, and her blind loyalty towards Tea Cake. Thus, Janie lacks adequate skills to take action and stand up for herself. Her inability to take control of her own life and passive attitude divorce her from the “feminist agenda”. In each of her relationships, Janie relinquishes control of a different but important aspect of her female identity. First, her ability to take action, second her ability to fight social rules, and finally her respect for herself.
Unfortunately, many relationships still revolve around a similar power dynamics to Janie and her husband’s. Janie’s passive mindset can inspire others to not be like her and take action towards dreams or against norms. Although it can be difficult to break through these barriers, Janie shows that it is essential for women and all people to take action in their life to achieve their goals.