Mortality In Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston’s takes her audience on a psychological adventure within her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. In her narration, the protagonist, Janie Crawford, goes on a transformational hero’s journey where her innermost thoughts are explored. From being influenced into an arranged marriage to finding the true love of her life, it is through the emotions revealed in Janie’s internal events that leads her to her ultimate awakening at the end of the novel as she reaches her horizon.
Janie’s internal conflicts play a significant role on the overall plot of the novel, as the protagonist discovers her own personal voice and strength in a society that is dominated by men and heavily influenced by class. However, throughout the novel Janie struggles with aligning her point of view to her actions except for when her life depends on it. Janie’s psychological events reveal her mortality; Janie’s ultimate awakening is developed in the matters of life and death.
Hurston depicts Janie’s quest for love and self empowerment through the use of a flashback as the protagonist shares her story with her best friend, Pheoby Watson. In the start of her memories, Janie’s viewpoint of love is exposed after her experience under a pear tree blossoms into her ideology of love. One afternoon, “She saw a 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… this was a marriage!” This encounter with the bees introduces Janie to the display of love and intimacy, as it becomes her expectation of the relationships between her and her future lover. When Janie attempts to act on her change in consciousness with a boy she had once ignored, Johnny Taylor, her Nanny interferes as she has an opposing viewpoint of men. Seeing men as cynical beings, Nanny forces Janie into an arranged marriage with Logan Killicks as she attempts to strip Jannie’s vision of love. This is the beginning of Jannie’s isolation as she conforms to her Nanny’s wishes, yet with her idea of love engraved in the hidden parts of her mind.
Janie marries Logan at Nanny’s house, secretly hoping to find intimacy throughout her new relationship with her husband. However, she is rudely awaken with the reality that marriage does not bring about love. Her isolation becomes her misery. Janie wants absolutely no part in doing the work Logan assigns, like the mule he offers her to help plow the fields. The significance of the mention of the mule becomes a symbolic figure that is referenced in Janie’s quest of self empowerment. These silent unpredictable creatures further emphasize Janie’s solitude. Within the isolation of her mind, Janie battles her desire for the horizon with the wishes of her Nanny. However, it is not until Nanny dies that she realizes she must find a form of escapism.
She proceeds to emerge into the next chapter of her life with with Joe Starks with ,” … a feeling of sudden newness and change…. Even if Joe was not there waiting for her, the change was bound to do her good. ” As the yearning for the pollen tree was never removed from Jannie’s inner thoughts, her impulse to leave with Joe was due to his appealing idea of “life beyond.” It is evident here that Janie is always conscious of her inner feelings and needs, although what instigates her is questionable as she never truly acted until the death of Nanny. She ventures into a new experience unaware of what it might hold, but certain that her impulse is needed to explore her desire of reaching the horizon that she had only made possible within her inner thoughts.
There is room to argue that Janie’s relationship with Joe serves her nothing but greater oppression with a higher social class. Throughout their marriage, Joe becomes more overbearing as becoming mayor of Eatonville has influenced his sovereignty. It is revealed that Joe created a false image of a better future for Janie, as he forces her to abide by his regulations. For instance, the symbolism within the head rags he forced her to wear express his constraints over Janie’s femininity, which results in her sacrificing her identity. Although Janie doesn’t agree with his domination, “Ah hates disagreement and confusion, so Ah better not talk”, such statement creates a dangerous atmosphere as Janie’s act of conforming to Joe’s needs questions the power, or even existence, of her own voice.
Almost being vanished of her identity, Janie meets death once again as Joe passes away. After twenty long years of marriage, Joe’s noticeably older age has allowed for another escape route in Janie’s attempt at reaching the horizon. Janie begins to comprehend that her voice can still be formed. This leads to Janie confronting Joe on his deathbed and letting out all the frustration she has been holding in her internal thoughts including his: self righteousness, selfishness, and lack of love. In his last moments, Joe wishes death upon Janie, which is ultimately ironic seeing that although death is surrounded by a negative connotation, it has proven to be Janie’s only tool to reshape her life.
Living free as a widow, it isn’t too long before the protagonist finds herself with another man. Tea Cake becomes Jannie’s true love, the only man that was able to make her feel again after her ordeal with Johnny. This young man has a contrasting viewpoint of gender roles when compared to Janie’s past relations. It is because of such beliefs that Tea Cake begins earning the trust of not only Janie, but the audience. By building a loving and caring foundation with Janie, the young man influences her perception of life as she is given the opportunity to express her internal thoughts. However, this warm atmosphere is soon demolished after Tea Cake asserts his dominance.
The thematic continuation of a male-female relationship in the novel reveals the submission of women. By objectifying women, “Being able to whip her reassured him in possession”, Tea Cake returns Janie into silence. Yet, this silence has proven to be profound, as the voice lingering within her mind has been shown to be Janie’s strength in a time where her own internal values aren’t respected. Holding onto such strength, is essential for Janie overcoming her horizon.
When a hurricane threatens and defeats Janie and Tea Cake, the young man sacrifices himself and is bitten by a rabid dog after being stuck in an intense flood. Alluding to Noah’s Ark in the bible, a flood of this magnitude signifies rebirth and reconstruction. For Janie, this was the ultimate start of transforming into a new persona; reaching the horizon she so deeply desired. After Tea Cake was infected by the deadly virus from the dog, he became mad and lost all of the appealing qualities Janie was in love with. Under the suppression of a man, with the guide of no one else, when presented with death one final time Janie chose and valued her own life and could no longer be silenced. Pulling the trigger that ultimately leads to the death of her lover, Janie has finally escaped her internal conflicts by finally acting upon her viewpoints.
Throughout the entirety of the novel, whether married to Logan, Joe, or even Tea Cake, Janie struggled immensely with finding her voice. The protagonist yearned for a future where she could no longer be suppressed by the men in her life and find true love within herself; her own personal horizon. Death brings Janie closer and closer to reaching such a dream, however, it isn’t until Janie understands the true value of her voice that she can escape her unhealthy relationships. Overall deepening her understanding of mortality, Janie’s powerful transformation provides a new outlook on death; through its lasting affect, death ventures into new beginnings that can rid an individual of fear as it pushes them into a future where they embrace each moment as their own.
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