Theme is a pervasive idea presented in a literary piece. Themes in Their Eyes Were Watching God, a masterpiece of Zora Neal Hurston, are aplenty. Not only does the novel present the dilemma of racism, but it also demonstrates the themes of gender, financial security, and feminism. Some of the major themes of Their Eyes Were Watching God have been discussed below.
Themes in Their Eyes Were Watching God
Nanny had faced various hardships and brutalities before the Civil War Era. She lived under the white patriarchy. Her daughter Leafy also faces the same hardships. When Leafy gives birth to Janie, their financial struggles continue. She wants Janie to have a secured life. So, she advises Janie not to be with Johnny Taylor, who was not financially sound. She arranges Janie’s marriage to Logan Killicks against her wishes. However, Janie doesn’t care much about money or status. Even with Jody Starks, her second husband, she is financially sound and yet stays miserable for 20 years. Though financial security is important, the author encourages readers to seek love.
Nanny Crawford uses power to get Janie to obey her and marry Logan Killicks. Later, Logan Killicks exerts power over Janie as he is older and patriarch. Jody Starks also controls Janie through his patriarchal power. This leads to an unhappy marriage at home and final scolding to Starks by Janie on his deathbed. Janie’s third husband Tea Cake, too, exploits his patriarchal position at some point. However, he also gives equal opportunity to her to fight back.
Love and Relationships
Although racial discrimination sometimes makes relationships strained, a few people leave issues behind and move on with life. Despite being born as a mixed-race; Janie tries to find love in all her marriages. Janie believes that a relationship should be based on equal footing and love. Though for a short period, in her final marriage with Tea Cake she experiences love and equality. Sadly, after Tea Cake is infected with rabies, she kills him. In the end, she still seems to accompany his spirit and memories of their love.
Janie realizes her transformation and sexual awakening when she turns 16. She meets Johnny Taylor and shares her first kiss. The theme is compared to the blossoming for pear tree and pollination of the flowers. While at first, Janie explores her physical pleasure, she soon yearns for true love and peaceful life.
Janie’s series of relationships with different men driven by gender-specific stereotypes show how gender wields power. Following her kiss with Johnny Taylor and marriage with Logan Killicks, Janie feels that she has no choice except to marry an old man. However, when she chooses Jody Starks, she feels empowered until she is publically humiliated by him. She lives a repressed life for the next 20 years. However, Tea Cake gives her empowerment. However, he still controls her through physical strength based on equality and honor.
Throughout the novel, Janie wants independence and freedom. Her two earlier marriages with Mr. Killicks and Mr. Starks, she experiences that patriarchy withholds freedom and independence. Femininity didn’t have any place in society. Janie leaves Logan Killicks to be free. However, she is trapped under Jody Starks for 20 years. Once he dies she welcomes independence. Nanny and Janie both want to be free from the restrictions of race, class, and gender to control their own world independently. Finally, after the death of Tea Cake Janie fully embraces her freedom.
Janie realizes her identity very early as she knows her mixed race-ethnicity. She has a Caucasian hair but the rest of her looks are from her mother’s side. Nanny recalls that their race is a curse as the white community kept them under suppression for years. Mrs. Turner was also of mixed race like Janie. However, she was obsessed with fair skin and hated African-American ethnicity. She identifies herself as white to forget her original racial identity.
Janie is the subject of the judgment due to her actions and appearances. She does not realize the judgment by her town gossipers when she marries Logan Killicks and Joe Starks. They continue to spread rumors and pass judgment. Later she learns through Pheoby Watson that all the women of the town are gossiping about her.
Nanny shows compassion and love to Janie after her mother leaves and raises her. Janie is also very compassionate and forgiving. Throughout the novel, Janie displays compassion to helpless things and people. Nanny successfully manipulates Janie to marry Logan Killicks knowing Janie’s compassionate nature. It is because of her compassion, she forgives the people who did wrong. She finds it hard to forgive her Nanny but remains kind to her.
Due to capitalism that was spread during the Civil War, Nanny advises her granddaughter, Janie, that she must look for financial support and protection. Nanny, Logan, and Janie all value money and goods which did not come to the African-Americans easily. On the other hand, poverty and financial difficulties lead to a very low lifestyle full of insults that Nanny and Leafy have witnessed before and after the Civil War.