Characters are human beings or animals in novels, stories, and poems. The authors show their beliefs, ideas and philosophical foundations through these characters. Major characters in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston also give an insight into the time during and after the Civil war. They convey their ideologies through conversation and actions. Some of the major characters of the novel have been discussed below.
Characters in Their Eyes Were Watching God
Janie is a free-spirited girl; she is part Caucasian and part black. She has a Caucasian hair which she flaunts by leaving it untied. Janie wants to fall in love without changing her personality. However, it doesn’t happen. Nanny, her grandmother, raises her after her mother runs away. She wants Janie to have a financially stable life. Hence she forces her to marry Logan Killicks. Janie leaves him later when she realizes that she couldn’t bear a loveless life. Later she marries Joe Starks, an ambitious man. He has a strong sense of patriarchy and suppresses her freedom. He even insults her before all the townsmen, crushing her individualism. Janie rises again after Starks’ death. Following his death, she meets Tea Cake Woods and marries him out of love. She hopes that she has finally arrived at her destination. However, nature takes its toll as they face a storm. While Tea Cake tries to save a buffalo. he is bitten by a mad dog. As Tea Cake becomes insane, Janie shoots Tea Cake, despite confessing he was her true love. Thus, after Tea Cake’s death, she returns alone to her native town. Finally, she feels free from her past oppression and gender stereotypes.
Nanny Crawford grew up as a slave. She wants Janie to have a financially secured life. Hence, she makes Janie marry Mrs. Killicks. Her assumption proves wrong as, despite Janie’s effort, she does not find herself loving her first husband. Whenever Janie visits her to complain of her tough life, Nanny encourages her to be positive and be grateful for her financial security. She recalls that no slave was able to enjoy that and she should be thankful to Logan Killicks. In other words, she is a goodhearted person, who thinks better about Janie than her own life.
Joe Starks is Janie’s second husband. He causes stir Janie’s life. His youthfulness and ambition syncs with Janie’s desire. Hence, he runs away with her to Eatonville to start a new life away from Mr. Killicks, Janie’s first husband. Joe becomes the mayor of the small town. He grabs the public as well as domestic powers. He begins to control Janie. Janie gets tired of his bad treatment and harshness. She thinks of him as a power-hungry person. However, they remain together until his death. She also gives him a proper and respectable burial.
Vergible Woods or Tea Cake
Vergible Woods is known as Tea Cake in the novel. He is younger than Janie and becomes her true love, despite the age difference. He is also her third husband. He helps Janie to know her roots, love and living a happy life. Tea Cake is spontaneous and adventurous, who encourages Janie to be free and equal. He is a good listener, a gambler and musician, having the knack of earning money at his will. Tea Cake has the qualities of a leader and wins public appreciation through his empathy toward others. Sadly, he dies of rabies when a dog bites him while saving a buffalo in the flood. Though for a short while, he leaves an everlasting impression on Janie.
Logan Killicks is Janie’s first husband. Nanny, Janie’s grandmother chooses Logan Killicks for her because he is financially sound. Despite his old age, Nanny believes that he would provide her the much-needed financial security. However, he proves highly unloving and too old to live with Janie. His condescending attitude toward Janie makes her stay away from him and finally decides to leave him for Joe Starks.
Leafy is Janie’s mother. She was born with gray eyes and blonde hair – unique features of a slave girl. Leafy was born at the end of the Civil war, where Nanny was working at the plantation. Nanny had to run for her life to save Leafy. Unfortunately, Leafy suffers the same fate. She gives birth to Janie. She becomes an alcoholic out of depression and runs away.
Pheoby Watson is Janie’s closest friend. She stands by Janie’s side when the town people talk against her. She understands that she has responsibilities and doesn’t follow Janie. By the end of the story, she narrates Janie’s story to other women. She believes that Janie has the courage to live according to her aspirations. She also claims that Janie’s story has given her encouragement and boldness to go on fishing.
Annie Tylor is a wealthy widow. She runs away with a man younger than her as an act of rebellion. However, when the dust settles she sees that the young man duped her. Who Flung, the young man, cheats her and takes all of her money. Janie thinks about Annie and her situation when she marries Tea Cake. However, Janie follows her heart instead of staying hesitant.
Johnny Taylor was Janie’s first crush. However, Nanny tells her to get married to Logan Killicks despite Janie’s strong objections. Nanny also warns her about Johnny’s poverty and future sufferings that may cause with lack of money.
Mrs. Turner is also from a mixed-race background from Everglades. She hates her own ethnicity and the feeling of inferiority associated with more African appearance. She tries hard to be as a Caucasian and like Janie for that reason. She wants Janie to leave Tea Cake and marry her brother. Later, she leaves for Miami, despising the skin color of the African-American race.