Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston portrays the religion of black people as a form of identity. Each individual in the black society Hurston has created worships a different God. But all members of her society find their identities by being able to believe in a God, spiritual or other. Grandma’s worship of Jesus and the “Good Lawd,” Joe Starks’ worship of himself, Mrs. Turner’s worship of white characteristics, and Janie’s worship of love, all stem from a lack of jurisdiction in the society they inhabit. All these Gods represent a need for something to believe in and work for: an ideal, which they wish to achieve, to aspire to. Each individual character is thus able to find himself or herself in the God that they worship.
Grandma embodies the initial faith of the book. Her faith is in the spiritual and her allegiance is to Jesus and God. Of all the characters in the book, Grandma has the least power. She is the only one who has lived through slavery and witnessed the change in history that took place after the Civil War. During slavery, she is not only materially oppressed through lack of power and material wealth, but also emotionally oppressed. Because of the oppressive society created by slavery, she has no control over her own life. The only way she can feel as if she has any power is to believe in a God. Her worship of God, therefore, becomes a representative power for her. She is empowered by the belief that she can at least count on God, if in nothing else. When she is escaping from the plantation she is against all odds, but she says that “And den de Good Lawd seen to it dat Ah wasn’t taken…But nothin’ never hurt me ’cause de Lawd knowed how it was” (pg. 18). She feels capable of successfully escaping because she believes that God is on her side. There is nothing physical or material to lend confidence and support to her, so she regulates her conviction in the ethereal. Grandma also uses her fidelity in the divine as an opportunity for procuring power, because she “want[s] to preach a great sermon” (pg. 16). Although she never is afforded the opportunity to preach, her worship of her religion allows her the opportunity to attempt to achieve this position of power, which seems to be enough for Grandma. Even though she is denied this chance because she has a baby “all the same [she] [says] thank God” (pg. 16). Through her failure she also recognizes that God wanted it that way for a reason, which enables her to move forward with her life.
Just as Grandma’s need for power was transferred to her worship of God, Joe Starks’ need for dominion is reflected by his worship of himself. Joe always says “I God” instead of “My God,” through which he is subconsciously referring to himself as God. He says that “Let colored folks build things too if dey wants to crow over somethin’…it ha[s] always been [my] wish and desire to be a big voice”...