In Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God, the story illustrates a biracial African American woman, Janie, who is returning to her home in Eatonville. The novel is told in the form of a flashback and gives an account of her early teenage years all the way through her mature adulthood when she returns to her home. During her journey through life Janie is confronted with many different conflicts. She fights both internal and external conflicts, such as her search for true love, gender roles, and racism. When Janie is a young girl she sits under a pear tree hich is where she finds her ideal image of love and marriage.
Janie undergoes three different marriages with each having their own conflicts that in the end would be beneficial to the success or failure of each, and her overall success of finding true love. This element of conflict helps to develop the themes of “the importance of relationships to humans’ happiness/ fulfillment,” and “the tension between the ideal and the real. ” Each conflict of Janie’s journey helped to develop the plot and allowed Janie to reach the conclusion she had been searching or, a sense of fulfillment in which she found her ideal lifestyle.
After Janie was introduced to marriage, she immediately faced social gender roles. In this time period women were expected to stay inside of the house, and complete feminine duties. In her first marriage with Logan Killicks, she was expected to cook and help around the house. This marriage was not in line with the vision of marriage that she had recently had as a young teenager. When Janie ran off with her second husband, Joe Starks, she was promised the world.. After Joe became mayor of Eatonville, Janie quickly realized that he was changing.
Joe began to notice that the men of the town payed close attention to Janie. He went as far as giving her orders of how she was to wear her hair after another man admired it, “Her hair was NOT going to show in the store.. That night he ordered Janie to tie up her hair around the store” (Hurston 55). Janie also enjoyed listening to the men talk on the porch and watching them play games, but anytime that she tried to participate she would be chastised by Joe and even beaten. This conflict benefitted Janie in the end because it caused her to be more cautious when she had thoughts of another relationship.
Her vision of what was ideal to her came into direct conflict of what was real, but eventually allowed her to find happiness and contentment in the end. Along her journey Janie is also conflicted with prejudice and racism. As a very young girl Janie and her grandmother lived with a white family. Janie never saw herself as different from any of the other children. She wore their clothes and even went to school with them but Janie was six years old before she realized that she was not like the other children she lived with. So when we looked at de picture and everybody got pointed out.. where is me? Ah don’t see me. Aw, aw! Ah’m colored” (Hurston 9).
A man coming through the town took a picture of the children. Janie had never seen herself before, and could not figure out why there was a colored girl where she was supposed to be standing. This was Janie’s first introduction to the bonds that slavery had left on African Americans. While in school Janie was constantly bullied by the girls about her father. While trying to protect her, Nanny, got a house that she and Janie moved into.
Nanny knew that without a mother or a father there was no possible way for Janie to get through life alone, which is why Nanny married her off to Logan. Through the chain of marriages Janie’s most consistent battle with racism was in her third and final relationship. When the hurricane struck the “Muck,” Janie and Tea Cake put all of their faith in the white man. But when devastation and heartache came to the land, it was proven that the white people were not like God, and were not always right.
During the process Tea Cake was forced to bury dead bodies, and all white bodies got preference. No matter what stage of life that Janie was in she was always battling the tension between the ideal and the real. In Janie’s ideal world, there would be no chaos or devastation. But in the real world there was always conflict between the races which created the tension between the ideal and the real in Janie’s life. When Janie was in her teenage years, she would lay under a pear tree in her backyard and examine the brilliance of nature.
One day she noticed the bees and the blossoms and the interactions between them. This experience set the standards of her ideal relationship and image of true love. “She saw a dust bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet he love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! ” (Hurston 11). As Janie was entering the next stage of her life she used the ideal standards of love and marriage that she had witnessed.
The conflict between the real and the ideal would eventually lead Janie to the happiness she was looking for. When Janie was married off to Logan Killicks she had hope that she could find love with him. Her grandmother had told her that marriage made love. But as time passed Janie realized that marriage did not make love. Logan stopped talking in rhymes to her. Janie noticed that he was changing. One day Logan told her his intentions of going to ask a man about buying a second mule, so that he could have her work in the field with him.
While Janie was at home alone a “cityfied” man was traveling the road towards Janie. His stylish manner caught Janie’s eye, which made her rush to the water pump to get his attention. Janie did not find the love that she had dreamed of in her first marriage. She did not want to work, but she did want to be treated as equal. Over the months Janie and Joe Starks began to talk more and more. Janie was fascinated by the man. Joe told her that he wanted to make a wife out of her, and that she had never been treated like a lady and that he planned to treat her like one.
Janie believed that what Joe was the ideal relationship she was looking for so she ran off with Joe Starks to find her happiness and fulfillment in life. Joe’s dream was to build up a town. When Janie and Joe ran away together, soon after getting married they settled in a small town. Joe had heard of the town already and was traveling there to see its beauty. The couple realized that the town was far from what they imagined. Joe is elected Mayor and begins to build up the town by building a store and post office. Once again Janie found happiness in the beginning of the marriage.
As the marriage matured Joe became more and more controlling with his new elected power. He would only allow her to work in the store or stay confined to the house. In Janie’s ideal relationship all she wanted was to be treated equally, and find what her image of “true love” was. When Jody eventually died, Janie had no interest in jumping into another relationship with another man. But when Janie begins to interact with Tea Cake she otices that he is different. She says, “He could be a bee to a blossom-a pear tree blossom in the spring” (Hurston 106).
Janie is having vivid images of the pear tree scene from her youth. The pear tree gave Janie her idea of what her ideal relationship was. Tea Cake brought Janie her ideal relationship of true love that she had been looking for. In the piece, “The African-American Female Body as Spectacle in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Loren Lee, it discusses the symbols of freedom and enslavement for Janie. The article states, ” the space of nature represents personal freedom for Janie, but the rtificial spaces imposed on her are all settings of enslavement” (Lee 143).
Logan Killicks was going to use Janie as a worker around the farm. Joe Starks provided for Janie, but he did not provide her with the love and relationship that she was searching for. When Tea Cake and Janie engaged in a marriage everything changed for Janie. The relationship that the two shared brought Janie both her ideal image of true love, and gave her the happiness in life that she had been searching for. Tea Cake literally and metaphorically freed Janie from enslavement of the world, and brought fulfillment into her life.