Their Eyes Were Watching God A Study

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Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Study Essay, Research Paper Tobey Teague Gallagher Comp. 1002 Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Study Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God treats society as something that inhibits rather than advances the cause of our personal freedom. This is evident throughout the novel – from the beginning, when Nanny lectures Janie on white society, to the end, when Janie returns to Eatonville from her time spent in freedom with Tea Cake. Gayle writes: “The image depicted in the philosophy of her ‘Nanny’ was one of stagnation and circumscription, one which denied freedom” (Gayle 146). Through the first half of the story, Janie is forced to live in a society that she did not choose. She is forced to marry Logan Killicks, who by most

measures of society would be the perfect husband. After all, he has sixty acres and he owns his house. But this society inhibits Janie’s personal freedom because she does not love Killicks, cannot bring herself to love him, and she is literally stuck out in the sticks at “a lonesome place like a stump in the middle of the woods where nobody had ever been” (Hurston 21). Added to that, Nanny was wrong regarding Killicks. He does not give her security. He treats her like a mule. Along comes Joe Starks, promising her a better life if she will run away with him and become his wife. Wanting to escape the loneliness and constriction of a loveless marriage, Janie allows Joe Starks to liberate her from Killicks, as well as from her home and the surroundings in which she was reared.

She sneaks off with Joe with visions of deliverance and freedom. What better place for two blacks to have a fresh beginning, a fresh life, a fresh society than in a town whose population is one hundred percent black? And free from the mighty white man’s rule? And free of old memories of slavery handed down by Nanny? Eatonville! It was Janie’s new beginning with her new husband, a new town where, surely, she would feel free to love and would enjoy the freedom that accompanies a love that is free. But there was a problem, and the problem was her new husband, who took her freedom and twisted it into a rag hat that was much too tight for Janie’s mind. Joe Starks took the lazy freedom that was the Eatonville at their arrival and transformed it into a society that inhibited

Janie’s personal freedom. From the minute he and Janie step into the town limits of Eatonville, Joe begins to take over, insisting that in order for Eatonville to be a town, it must have a mayor, a post office, a meeting place, and it must incorporate – the trappings of society. “So maybe Ah better tell yuh in case you don’t know dat if we expect tuh move on, us got tuh incorporate lak every other town. Us got tuh incorporate, and us got tuh have uh mayor, if things is tuh be done and done right” (Hurston 43). Society comes to Eatonville through Joe Starks and his store. The store is the meeting place for the town and it is where the post office is located. Joe Starks is mayor, landlord, postmaster, and owner of the seat of society, which is the store. But from the

beginning, he restricts Janie’s freedom. When the citizens of Eatonville want her to say a few words, Joe cuts them and Janie off short: “Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home” (Hurston 43). And Janie “went down the road behind him that night feeling cold” (Hurston 43). When the town folk sit on the store’s porch and talk and laugh and make jokes, they are outside the store, on the perimeter of society rather than dead in the middle of it, and on the perimeter they have more freedom. They can laugh and make noise; they can spit without a spittoon and even talk about the mayor. As Hurston writes: “When the people sat