In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, the reader is brought through the life of the main character, Janie. She’s wrung through a journey consistent of disappointment, and heartache, then abuse and oppression, and finally coming to an end with passionate and unrequited love. Our bi-racial strong willed protagonist Janie is very unlike the woman, and goes through so much trouble because everyone she loves wants to keep her from the one thing she wants the most, to be herself. She tries to find herself through love, and love becomes the medium from which find peace and happiness within herself. When Hurston explores and writes about this love in a unique way, using motifs and and symbols. Hurston’s use of the motifs setting and language, with the support of a number of symbols, to shows how Janie partners express themselves unto her, and she expresses herself to them.
Nanny holds the title as the largest impact on Janie’s love life, pushing her into a loveless marriage with Logan Killicks. She is the the starting point for all of Janie’s terrible love experiences, forcing her into the union, and her reasoning being, she wanted to keep her safe. In all reality, like the other loves Janie meets in her life, she wants to keep her under influence and control, but it’s completely out of love, and fear for her future. “‘Tain’t Logan Killicks Ah wants you tuh have baby, it’s protection” (Hurston 15) like the men Janie later meets, she feels it is best for her to make Janie is decisions for her, because nobody wants to believe Janie can think for herself. Nanny does does just force her unto Logan Killicks to control her, she does it because she does not understand love. Love to Nanny is something that is learned, something one just tolerates to survive. In this, her grandmother begins to distort distort her idea of love, whilst trying to keep her under her control for her safety. All of this, because Nanny believes love, the love Janie strives for is dangerous, as Nanny said “ District love! Dat’s just whut’s got us uh pullin’ and uh haulin’ and sweatin’and doin’ from can’t see in the mornin’ till can’t see at night. (Hurston 23)She saw love as something that turns you into something you never wanted to be. Another one of Nanny’s delusions that sends Janie in a downward spiral in her love life.
Logan Killicks, the second love in Janie’s life, was not very controlling in his love, but his love was much more disappointing. The love between them was unrequited, forced, unnatural, and completely destroyed Janie’s idea of love, her pear tree. Bursting reoccurring symbol, the pear tree represents Janie’s sensual side of her personality. Her longing to find the perfect, passionate, adventurous and real love. One important factor about Janie and Logan’s relationship was that it brought out a resilience in her. When Logan tried to pin Janie down and make her submit, she fought back “ If you can stand not to chop and tote wood Ah reckon you can not stand to git no dinner”… “I don’t mean to chop de first chip” (Hurston 26) This reveals two things about her character, that for a woman in the 1930’s, she was particularly bold and independent. It also revealed that it would take more to break her spirit than some weak seventy-year old man.
Language in this novel stands out as the one of the most impressive motifs, it’s purpose is to show the closeness between Janie and her partner. If Janie and her partner don’t talk to each other like they are in completely infatuated with each other, they aren’t close and the love isn’t at the pearl tree level she wants. Whenever the language between the couple changes, the dynamic of the relationship changes with it; the status Janie’s relationship is synonymous to how they talk to each other. In her relationship with Logan, yes, love talk present at first, flirting as some would say, but as time went on, rather quickly the love language was lost, as he tried to push her to work his land. After the flirting was gone, the absence of apparent passion in her marriage ruined her idea of love, and struck down on here picture perfect love, the pear tree. This experience as Hurston wrote “She knew now that marriage did not bring love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman” (Hurston 25) Logan Killick brings out a fight in Janie, and with that defiant attitude, and Janie losing her hopes to find the “perfect tree love”, Janie becomes desperate, leading her into the arms of Joe.
Joe exhibits the most controlling, greedy, and selfish love when it comes to Janie. He treats her as a trophy, flaunting her around the town, making them jealous, making them hate her. He uses her for her beauty, to make himself shine brighter, make him more notable. He won’t even let her speak, because he does not want the town or her to think she had any voice. “…mah wife don’t know nothin ‘bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lake dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home.” (Hurston 43) At the same time, he takes her voice, because in most cases Janie shines way brighter than Joe Starks ever could. He uses control to express his love for her, but also used control to limit her, take her horizon as her grandmother did once before.
Setting, the other significant motif that Hurston uses to describe the relationship, shows how the most impacting men in her life expressed their love. When Joe brought Janie to Eatonville, he brought her there to make himself “a big voice”, an influential, powerful man. He kept her there because, just like he owned the majority of Eatonville, he felt he owned her. She was like one of his prized possessions, so basically trophy him, and his display case for him was the store, Janie’s shiny prison. You can see Joe making Janie seem like property here “She wants therein the store for him to admire, not those others” (Hurston 55). Because of Joe’s controlling nature, and verbal abuse, and the illusion of love in their relationship, Janie never leaves him. The store, Eatonville, the places the Joe build boosts his ego and fulfill his need to control everything that is remotely related to him. Joe takes away Janie’s identity, changing how she dresses, tying up her hair, one because he’s controlling, but he also does it out of jealousy. He doesn’t want anybody admiring her, because to him that’s his property. “ the business of the head rag irked her endlessly, but Jody was set on it. Her hair was NOT to be shown in the store” (Hurston 55) Joe dresses her up, makes himself seem like he’s not on the same level as the townspeople. At the same time, he pulls her up so the people think she’s at a higher standard, or higher class than the other towns people. Putting her on a pedestal put her in a place no one felt they could reach her, and she felt prisoner, as she could not reach others either.
Language takes even more of a place in this relationship because it takes such a dark turn. Joe uses a very harsh and a rude, mean tone to Janie in the later years of their marriage; harsh and rude to say the least. Joe Starks verbally abused Janie during their marriage to keep her in line with him. So, while Joe uses language to oppress Janie, her lack of language, or love language is Janie’s way of dealing with the mistreatment. She was unattached to him emotionally, so sh spoke coldly, or she barely spoke at all. With Joe her soul was hidden and she grew a mask, to hide from the expectations and judgement from Eatonville.. Joe had no respect for Janie, made her feel less than human, he thought that way too. “Somebody got to think for women chillun an cows. I god, they sho don’t think none for themselves.” (Hurston 71) Joe had a tremendous hold on Janie, and it took an event as tremendous as his death to bring her any kind of peace and freedom. All of her heartache stress and were leaving, and were ridden completely by the introduction of Teacake.
Teacake is special, because he is the one person in Janie’s in life that actual wants the best for her, and wants to love her for her, not for what she can do for him. To Teacake, Janie is her own woman who can act and do on her own, and to show his love her he teaches to do things on her own. To drive, to shoot, to fish, to play chess all things no one would let her do because no one wants her think or act on her own accord. Teacake allows Janie to live and be herself, and to love him simultaneously, something the the other three characters did not care enough to do. Teacake treated her with great respect, he wants to only provide for her “ Ah needs no assistance feedin’ mah woman.” (Hurston 128)He never wanted to spend . Money he only wanted to take care of her. So while she met Nanny and Logan with resistance and rebellion, and Joe with cold and distant behavior, she treated Teacake with unconditional love and let herself become vulnerable to him, and he unto her.
Setting as a motif works for Teacake as well. Eatonville was Janie’s prison, that joe built for her, and after his the townspeople felt it was necessary to keep her on her that pedestal. She could not make her own decisions, and then Teacake takes her to the muck, a new free place where she could be herself. When he does this, he sets her free from her prison, and she begins to explore the muck, with its new people and new surroundings.she finds herself in it, and her soul is finally allowed to come its hiding place. Janie thinks back to Eatonville and reflects on what she’s become, “Only here could she listen laugh and even talk some herself if she wanted to.”(Hurston 134) Ironically, Janie feels more free and independent in the tiny shack she shared with teacake than she ever did in that huge mansion with Joe.
Language between Janie and Teacake was very special. They exchanged some of the most sweet, passionate, caring, and beautiful words between each other. Despite what most would believe, the words they exchanged were completely genuine. Language is important to Janie because it is how she expresses her feelings. With Logan, she did not want to follow his lead so she spoke rebelliously, and with Joe, she was unattached to him emotionally, so sh spoke coldly, or she barely spoke at all. With Teacake he loved her unconditionally, despite her age, despite her past, and Janie often found it hard to believe. Then before his death, teacake said “…don’t say you’se Ole. You’se uh lil baby girl all the time. God made it so yo’ Ole days first wid somebody else and saved up all yo’ young girl days wid me” (Hurston 155) When they spoke, they spoke their own love language. How they speak to each other is so significant because Hurston makes the connection and flirting so strong to make sure the reader knows no other love she experienced is as real and raw as the one she has with Teacake.
Hurston, in Their Eyes Were Watching God, creates the perfect love story, with a tragic ending that can even leave a reader in tears. Her journey from a carried seventeen year old girl to an independent widow, twice over will remain a classic for years to come. Her grandmother pushes her into a marriage for all the wrong reasons leaving her and her hopes for finding the perfect love devastated. Our character then moves into a 20 year long verbally abusive and spiritually draining marriage that takes the death of her abuser to finally gain some sort of freedom. And at long last Janie finds her perfect pear tree love. Only to find her lover dead, saving her life, yet in his death she comes to terms with her situation and is, for once in her life, free. At the end of this novel, our character has been to the horizon and back, and finally finds inner peace