Janie, in Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God, changed throughout the course of the three major stages of her life. In each of her three marriages, Janie, experienced both oppression and freedom through her interactions with her husbands. Her transition from different towns also helped her discover herself, and explore her options in society as a black woman. Literary critic, Claire Crabtree, wrote that, “the three marriages and the three communities in which Janie moves represent increasingly wide circles of experience and opportunities for expression of personal choice.
” In each of her marriages, Janie undergoes a moment of intimidation of her husband’s assertive and dominant character, to a moment of anger and retaliation from all of the moments that she had held back. The only exception is in her last marriage with Vergible (Tea Cake) Woods, whom she unwillingly killed and remained involved with after doing so. Each of her phases follow the same basic sequence. In the beginning, she feels physically and verbally oppressed by her husband, then, she comes to a realization of her mistreatment, and then she finally acts upon it by retaliating in a gruesomely honest way, presumptuously stating the sad truth.
By this point, all of her stresses and angers towards her husband have built up, and, disregarding everything that her grandmother told her about keeping quiet with her husbands, she blew up. Janie knew that she deserved the best. She dreamed of being treated like the smart woman that she was, and for once, not be deprived of her intelligence, just because she was a woman. This is why Janie retaliated against her husbands, directly or indirectly, after a long time of passiveness towards them, because she realized that what she was living with them, was not her dream.
Janie was in the search of her dream as well as her personal voice, and she did not want to waste her time with something that she did not want. If she knew that at the moment something was in her way, detaining her from reaching her goals, she set out to do whatever it was that she had to do to free herself from this obstacle; “What was she loosing so much time for? A feeling of sudden newness came over her. Janie hurried out of the front gate and turned south. Even if Joe was not there waiting for her, it was bound to do her good” (Hurston 31).
Janie decided to leave Logan because she knew that living with him was not helping her create a personal voice, and because she knew that she could be receiving better treatment from someone else. Leaving Logan allowed Janie to freely move closer up to living her dream. Critic Lynn Domina in Novels For Students, that despite what Janie’s grandmother taught her, she did not want to tolerate mistreatment from her husband; “Janie, however, decides that she will not be treated as a mule, even if she has to reject the values that her grandmother has taught her” (Domina 313).
Even though her grandmother taught her good moral values, establishing a personal self was far more important to Janie than disregarding Nanny. Leaving Logan was Janie’s form of retaliation against Logan; only because she knew that here grandmother would have been disappointed. Janie’s second marriage was to Joe Starks. After Joe dies, Janie decides to move on with her life and do the things that she wanted to do while Joe was alive. Joe was a jealous husband. He was most over protective with Janie’s long straight hair, which many of the townsmen vied as sexually attractive.
He would make Janie wear head rags to cover her hair up, but after Joe died, “… she burnt up every one of her head rags and went about … with her hair in one thick braid swinging well below her waist” (Hurston 85). This was Janie’s way of freeing herself from all of the years of being oppressed by Joe, and burning her head rags was her form of retaliation. Critic Lynn Domina wrote that Janie moved onto a style of life that was more convenient for her, rather than her husband; “After Joe dies, she begins to wear her hair in a long braid …
She begins to dress in overalls rather than in middle-class dresses because she finds the pants more comfortable and convenient” (Domina 314). Janie, in a rather quick pace, is acting upon her desires, separating herself from her husbands’ whims, to what she wants. She is solidifying her personal voice, and moving closer to living her dream. When she accomplishes this, she will feel confident to stand up to her husbands, and be fearless of exposing her own personal opinions, without having to worry about dismissing her own argument if her husband disagrees with her.
This is what Janie has always wanted, and this is what she is determined to get. Janie’s last marriage was with Vergible (Tea Cake) Woods. For the most part, this marriage went well. Janie, actually, ended up unwillingly killing Tea Cake in self defense, as he threatened to kill her with a gun. Killing Tea Cake freed Janie from all of the oppressions that she received from men. His death was her next step to utter freedom; “It was the meanest moment of eternity. A minute before she was just a scared human being fighting for its rights.
Now she was her sacrificing self with Tea Cake’s head on her lap … Then the grief of outer darkness descended” (Hurston 175). Though she remained loving him after killing him, without doing this, she could have never reached complete personal freedom. Critic Claire Crabtree agrees that the death of Tea Cake only further helped Janie in the creation of her own personal voice, because she said that “Hurston, as a feminist, did not want Janie to find fulfillment in a man, but rather in her new-found self… ” (Crabtree 317).
Janie’s strong beliefs towards men’s sexist behaviors restrained her from being meant to be a conjugal partner. Tea Cakes’ death represented Janie’s full victory against men. It also supplied Janie with the strength that she needed in order to mold into the image that she has always wanted for herself. The pressures that she received from men would no longer be obstacles in the road that lead to her dreams. Janie, in one way or another, retaliated her against her husbands. Though she might have seemed vulnerable and easily controlled, she really was not.
She showed them her capabilities through her retaliations, as well as her strong will and to make her dreams come true. Each husband gave her the strength that she needed to succeed in life, and the outcome of all three stages was all that she had wanted; her dreams coming to a reality.
Bibliography Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1937. Domina, Lynn. Novels For Students. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998 Crabtree, Claire. Southern Literacy Journal. Spring, 1985.