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I enjoyed Their Eyes Were Watching God's grasp on imagination, imagery and phrasing. Janie's dialogue and vernacular managed to carry me along, slipping pieces of wisdom to me in such a manner that I hardly realize they are ingesting something deep and true. Their Eyes Were Watching God recognizes that there are problems to the human condition, such as the need to possess, the fear of the unknown and resulting stagnation. The book does not leave us with the hopelessness of Fitzgerald or Hemingway, rather, it extends a recognition and understanding of humanity's need to escape emptiness. "Dem meat skins is got tuh rattle tuh make out they's alive (183) " Her solution is simple: "Yuh got tuh go there tuh know there. " Janie sets out on a quest to make sense of her inner questionings- a void she knew she possessed from the moment she sat under the pear tree. "She found an answer seeking her, but where? ... where were the shining bees for her (11)?" Though tragedy invades her life, it does not cripple her, but strengthens her. Alone at novel's end, having loved and lost, Janie sits in her home, banished of the "feeling of absence and nothingness (183). " Her road to discover led to herself, and she gains a better understanding of the world she lives in and how small a thing happiness is comprised of: "If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don't keer if you die at dusk.
It's so many people never seen de light at all. (151) ." The struggle Janie emerged from to find her inner self needed men as a catalyst. The male / female relationship cannot be duplicated with a female / female one. Logan Killick's ownership of her being could not have happened with a woman counterpart. After marrying Killicks for protection rather than love, Janie realizes that she is living Nanny's dreams rather than her own. She also realizes that with protection comes obligation-Killicks feels he deserves to slap her around. With that discovery, she makes the choice to escape with Jody and his ambitious ideas.
Joe seems closer to her ideal, closer to the dream of marriage that she has nourished despite opposition. Jody is complex. He represents a whole host of things, including the attempt of the black man to gain wealth and power, his effort to pattern success and failure after the model of the white man ("she was proud of what she saw. Kind of portly like white folks"), and the false sense of ownership that money brings. From the beginning of their relationship, there were signs that he was not necessarily the love Janie was looking for. "On the train the next day, Joe didn't make many speeches with rhymes to her, but he bought her the best things the butcher had... " The effect money had on Jody's life is already apparent. He bought her things because he was ownership-oriented.
Throughout his life, he shows both the first flush of luxury and the futility and bypassing of what is truly important that upward mobility brings. All in all, wealth does not bring happiness, and Janie shares that sad realization with Fitzgerald's Dick Diver. The suppression of Janie, both as a woman and a human, is Jody's most interesting facet. He sets a limit on her self- fulfillment, treating her more like an object than a woman.
Of course, he lumps women in with mere things -- "Somebody got to think for women and child and chickens and cows (67). " He's good to Janie, but he's good to his animals also. In fact, Joe's attitude towards Janie is echoed in his behavior towards the overworked mule he buys and sets free: he lets the mule loose to wander around town as evidence of his generosity and wealth. As Janie so bitterly sees, "Free' dat mule makes a mighty fine man outa you. Something like George Washington... you got uh town so you freed uh mule. You have tuh have power tuh free things and dat makes you lak uh king uh something (55). " Janie has begun to realize that she also, serves only as a reflection of his position and wealth.
Tea Cake, on the other hand, gave Janie the freedom to be who she was, not who someone wanted her to be. He was the catalyst in her inner blooming. He not only encourages her growth to independence, but furthers it by teaching her skills (the game of checkers that Janie "just ain't never learnt how") and praising her talents. Tea Cake has none of the financial stability of the first two men, but he has an openness of mind that allows Janie to escape from people's expectations. He makes Janie realize that she has to decide what she wants out of life, and she discovers she hates the limitations Nanny imposed on self-fulfillment: "Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon... and pinched in into such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter's neck tight enough to choke her. " Tea Cake defies Nanny's conservative view of security, and represents Janie's first decision that wasn't an escape.
However, even thought Tea Cake aided in Janie's growth, he was not to be a permanent part of her life. After his death, Janie ends up with no men, but a wealth of experience and a self- realization that brings her peace. "There are years that ask questions and years that answer, " and Janie has finally reached the ones that answer. The fact that she is alone when she settles with these answers emphasized the strength of the African American woman. Fitzgerald, Barnes, and their compatriots wage war against the notion of a unified self, pointing out the self-war within all. Humanity is at war with and in itself, but this war is perpetual, and if people cannot learn to coexist peacefully amidst conflict, life will wear them out. I don't think Hurston's ideologies are completely unable to coexist with Fitzgerald's and Barnes'.
The latter critique the Romantic idea of the unified self. I see Hurston as realizing the disunity in existence, but portraying those who have chosen happiness in spite of it. Complete fragmentation doesn't necessarily need to lead to Barnes' world of despair. When Janie tells Phoebe that love is not a grindstone that makes everything it touches the same, but it's like a sea that takes it's shape from each shore it meets (182), she is referring to much more than just love. Hurston has couched her ideology on life in that paragraph.
Janie's search for love is parallel to the human search for meaning and what life truly consists of. There is no one answer, either of despair or happiness. Hurston is portraying a world of true individuality, where every experience will end differently with each person. Life is not like a grindstone, but the sea. Hurston does not promise it will bring happiness to all, she simply shows us the life of one woman who did end up with happiness and contentment. A paragraph in Their Eyes' afterword caught my attention: "In [the novel's] concern with the project of finding a voice... [it uses] language as an instrument of injury and salvation, of selfhood and empowerment. (187) " This novel is unusually focused on language and communication.
In fact, it questions the relevance of oral speech and "testifies to the limitations of voice... " Alice Walker argues that Hurston's use of "women's silence can be intentional and useful. " The first page begins the novel with a moti...
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Research essay sample on Eyes Were Watching God Tea Cake