In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, we have a frame narrative of a women’s perspective of life in the rural south. The reader is introduced to a middle-aged partly African American female named Janie, who then confides in her best friend with her life’s tale. The common factor between the author and the main character as Robert Hemenway writes is that, “Janie's poetic self-realization is inseparable from Zora's concomitant awareness of her cultural situation,” which exemplifies this novel as a symbol of women’s role in society and the liberation of women during this particular time period (Hemenway 37). Hurston creates a character who struggles to look for love in a marriage and to find her identity. This paper will discuss the author’s portrayal of a woman’s role in society during the time period of the novel within Janie’s character, and how it is difficult for Janie to live by this role.
Janie is put through many trials through her life. She is only sixteen and confused when she enters her first marriage unknowing the meaning of true love. In her first marriage with Logan Killicks she is not knowing what to expect in marriage, or if it will lead to love, and if it ends a life of loneliness. As Tracy Caldwell mentions in her analysis of the novel, “Logan “Killicks” was responsible for killing Janie’s early hopes for love,” how his name symbolizes his character and how that character affects Janie (Caldwell 2). Janie unhappy, then meets Joe Starks, a man that makes her feel special. In this marriage unlike the first, she thinks she has found love, but is lost to whether if it is love or if she is just an accomplishment for Joe. For example, Joe states at his election speech, “mah wife don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no speech makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home”(Hurston 43). Janie is unhappy in this marriage as well not being able to express her self in any matter, and has no voice. Janie is unwilling to admit it but is far from love in her second matrimony as well. Within the first two weddings Hurston shows the reader not only how hard it is for Janie, but the struggle of women in marriage. Females are expected to just live in silence doing the bidding of their husbands and had no freedom of speech. But Hurston gives something to her character that women did not have during the time period, the ability to make choices without consequences.
Hurston shows how women had no identity by example of Janie’s second marriage. Analyst Tracy Caldwell suggests as well:
The relationships between men and women and women and women are explored in depth in the text. The tightly knit social structure of Eatonville in which men are firmly in control often results in the objectification of women, who are seen for little more than their physical attributes (Caldwell 3).
Like when Joe would not let Janie let her hair down, a symbol of Janie’s free character being tied up by...