Comparing and Contrasting Relationships in Hurston’s Novels, Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwanee
In Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwanee, Zora Neale Hurston creates two protagonists, Janie and Arvay, and depicts their rich relationships with Tea Cake and Jim, respectively. This brief paper compares these two women and their interaction with their husbands. Contrasting the similarities of these relationships helps underscore deeper themes that Hurston draws from two ostensibly different women.
Tea Cake and Jim bear substantial resemblance to each other. They both carry a rather unsavory reputation around their towns, they both woo their new wives aggressively; they even take care of their women with occasional recourse to illegal improprieties such as liquor distilling and gambling (although they tend to spend their profits quite differently). Both men reduce to child-like behavior in key moments of affection with their wives; Tea Cake favors having his head in Janie’s lap, while Jim prefers his head resting on Arvay’s breast. Perhaps most crucially, both men exhibit communication and behavior that make their wives frantic with jealousy and fear. Jim, in his teasing of Arvay, and Tea Cake in his long absences, especially right after his marriage to Janie in
Jacksonville, make their respective wives boil over with internal anguish.
Janie and Arvay respond to their men in similar ways as well. Both women swing from extremes of doubt and distrust to passionate, all-encompassing love for their husbands. Moreover, both women reconfigure themselves to adjust to the man’s world, as when Janie moves to the Everglades with Tea Cake, and when Arvay goes out to sea with Jim on his fishing boat. Both women find their solace in an idealization of their man, and that idealization is rooted in past experiences. For Janie, her quiet moralizing to Phoebe about love is rooted in her past relationships with three different men, “you got tuh go there tuh know there” (226, Hurston’s italics). Janie’s refuge is in her memory of Tea Cake, who in her remembrance has a halo-ish “sun for a shawl,” and she realizes “Of course he wasn’t dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace.” (227). Janie’s collective experiences allow Tea Cake’s memory to comfort her from beyond the grave. In a sense, her feelings for him are great enough to replace his absence. But Hurston closes the novel with an intriguing simile, as Janie”pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net....So much of life in its meshes!” (227); what would ordinarily be an image of entrapment is transfigured into one of succor. The image is that of Janie harvesting her memories for sustenance and comfort.
If Janie’s tales stem from her wisdom borne from accumulated experiences, Arvay’s “moment of great revelation” derives from a deeper...