Lessons Learned Essay, Research Paper
Lessons Learned In Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, the main character, Janie, is a woman who develops her identity throughout the novel by using the knowledge and experience she obtains from her three marriages. Janie’s marriages to Logan Killicks, Jody Starks, and Tea Cake are the most crucial elements in her development as a woman. After each relationship is over, her attitude undergoes a metamorphosis, directing her towards her eventual independence. Janie, through youth and lack of empowerment, is mislead to believe other people s definitions of love and marriage until she is strong enough to find a relationship on her own which satisfies her personal definitions of love and marriage. The earliest influential moment on Janie s view of love and marriage occurred at the age of sixteen in her Nanny’s back yard. Janie lies beneath the pear tree when, “the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the 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! She had been summoned to behold a revelation” (Hurston 11). Janie’s youthful idealism leads her to believe that this intense sensuality must be similar to the intimacy between lovers, and she wishes “to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom!” (Hurston 11). The image suggests a wholeness – as bees pollinate blossoms paralleling human sexual intercourse. From the beginning of her story under the pear tree, Janie undergoes the process of self-discovery, as she evolves through her experiences with three distinctly different husbands. Janie s first marriage to Logan Killicks is the result of an arrangement by Nanny, Janie s grandmother. Nanny s dream is for Janie to attain a position of security in society, high ground as she puts it (Hurston 13). As the person who raised her, Nanny feels that it is both her right and obligation to impose her dreams and her ideas of what is important in life on Janie. The conflict between Janie s idyllic view of marriage and Nanny s wish for her to marry for stability and position is a confrontation that Janie will carry with her throughout her self-discovery. Janie, prior to her marriage to Logan Killicks, still maintained the romantic notion that marriage is what she witnessed under the pear tree. Nanny s idea of a good marriage is someone who has some standing in the community; someone who will get Janie to that higher ground. Nanny wants Janie to marry Logan Killicks, but according to Janie he look like some ole skullhead in de graveyard (Hurston 13). Even more importantly to Janie, though, was the fact that the vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree (Hurston 14). Nanny leads her to believe that love comes after marriage though love is secondary to the security marriage provides. After they have the fight over Logan Killicks, Nanny says something, by way of an explanation of why Janie needs to marry up the social ladder. She says, De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see (Hurston 14). Janie, out of respect for her grandmother, went off to start her role as a wife. Janie’s marriage to Logan Killicks was the first stage in her development as a woman. She hoped that her forced marriage with Logan would end her loneliness and desire for love. She was naive about love before her marriage to Logan; she thought that love would come with time if she married him but she quickly comes to understand the reality of marriage. Right from the beginning, the loneliness in the marriage shows up when Janie sees that his house is a “lonesome place like a stump in the middle of the woods where nobody had ever been” (Hurston 21-22). This description of Logan’s house is symbolic of the relationship they have and is symbolic of Killick s own character. Janie eventually admits to Nanny that she still does not love Logan and cannot find anything to love about him. It is not long before the newness of marriage wears off for Logan and he introduces Janie to the physical bondage that is expected of a wife. Logan tells Janie I aims to run two plows, and dis man Ah m talkin bout is got a mule all gentled up so even uh woman kin handle im (Hurston 27). There is little doubt why Logan would need a mule so gentle even a woman could handle it. He does not treat Janie kindly, often treating her as a servant rather than his wife and frequently telling her that she is lazy and spoiled. Janie, although she tries, cannot make herself love Logan Killicks. She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie s first dream was dead, so she became a woman (Hurston 25). This quote is important because, more than even the marriage ceremony, it marks Janie s transition from Nanny s child to a woman, not only in the biological and social sense, but also in the sense that Nanny describes when she says that the black woman is the mule of de world . . . (Hurston 14). Janie became a woman, a person willing to except the loss of a dream and move on, knowing that something was gained in the process. The “horizon” claimed one of Janie s dreams; she would never be able to reach it. As Logan realizes more and more that Janie is not happy with him, he tries to force her into the traditional wife role by having her do more and more of the demeaning work around the farm. The last straw is when he asks her to get a shovel and move a pile of manure. After realizing that she doesn’t want to spend her life as a slave, she runs away from Logan to be with a man she had met only days before this realization. It takes a while for her to decide this, but when she finally does “a feeling of sudden newness and change came over her. Janie hurried out of the front gate and turned south. Even if Joe was not there waiting for her, the change was bound to do her good” (Hurston 32). She is finally facing reality and getting out from under Logan’s rule before it’s too late. The quest for freedom for Janie begins with the arrival of Joe Starks. When she leaves Logan for Joe Starks, who she thinks is her answer to the pear tree, she hopes that she has found a man that she can love. As Janie says He spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance” (Hurston 29). In the beginning of their marriage Joe treats her like a queen. He tells Janie that his woman needs to relax in the shade sipping on molasses water and fanning herself from the hot sun. Janie fell in love with the idea. But the freedom with Joe was not absolute. In some ways her marriage with Joe Starks is more of a hardship on Janie than her marriage to Logan. Although she stays married to Joe until he dies, she soon begins to understand that she has exchanged the physical and emotional bondage of her marriage to Logan for intellectual and social bondage by Joe. The scene where Joe Starks is elected mayor illustrates this point, as the crowd wants to here from Mrs. Mayor Starks (she no longer has her own identity). Mah wife don t know nothin bout no speech-makin . Ah never married her for nuthin lak dat. She s uh woman and her place is in de home (Hurston 43). It soon becomes apparent that Joe is only interested in having a wife to use as a show piece. Their marriage was strictly for social appearance. Joe feels that his marriage is a part of his image, a part of his job. He does not marry her for love. Joe marries Janie to look good in front of the people who look up to him. Janie wants to feel a part of the community, but Joe keeps her isolated so that she will continue to be his prize and not become just another woman in the town. He did not realize that Janie was different in her needs, she did not require status or material goods, she required love. 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 chilun and chickens and cows (Hurston 71).” 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, “Freein’ 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 (Hurston 58). Joe desires Janie’s complete submission, and occasionally beats her when she does not submit. Janie was again a prisoner as Joe sheltered her and made her feel different from the rest of society. Janie slowly begins to break out of the clay shell that Starks has been molding her into throughout their marriage. “She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she know how not to mix them” (Hurston 72). Starks’ death makes this transition possible for her. She begins to let herself live, with no boundaries holding her back. She was able to grow, blossom, change, and become mentally free. She ceased to care what society and people thought of her.
Janie’s resilience is rewarded when she finally meets and marries Tea Cake, who represents the closest semblance to her youthful idealism regarding love and marriage; he also represented another step to freedom. He looked like love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom a pear blossom in the spring (Hurston 106) He provides the ultimate fulfillment of her idealism regarding what marriage could and should be. Her marriage to Tea Cake is opposite from both of her previous marriages. Tea Cake makes Janie feel like she can do anything. Tea Cake makes Janie a part of his social life and this is something new to Janie s life. He makes her feel like an equal human being. The love she feels for Tea Cake and the love she is given in return helps Janie truly understand what love means. Tea Cake respects Janie as an intelligent woman, recognizing her individuality, giving her the feeling that she now has room to live. Janie is reaching for her goals and is finally beginning to achieve them. All of Janie s life she was hidden behind a mask that only was taken off with Tea Cake s love. He teaches her to play checkers and encourages her participation in all the activities he is involved in. When Tea Cake is lonely on the muck picking beans because Janie is not with him he requests that Janie join him in the fields. Unlike Jody who wanted Janie to “class off” and act like a lady (more like a trophy); he is more concerned with having her by his side because he misses her presence. Although Tea Cake still believes that he owns Janie somewhat, he wants her to be happy at all times. After being married for a while Tea Cake begins to slap Janie around. “Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss” (Hurston 147) The physical beating didn t change the relationship between Tea Cake and Janie.. Janie still feels that he gave her the unconditional love that she longed for all her life. Janie and Tea Cake love each other for who they are, instead of loving the roles they have forced each other into. With Janie’s relationship with Tea Cake they are not looking for people to fill any role in their lives other than the role of soul mate. He drifted off to sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place (Hurston 128). Tea Cake not only encouraged Janie s growth to independence, but also given her a direction toward her new life. He makes her dream of love come true, and only two years with him satisfies her for the rest of her life. She does not regret anything in her life because she was able to spend those years with Tea Cake. Her development as a woman is complete after living and learning with Vergible “Tea Cake” Woods. She was like a little seed, able to blow in the wind and go wherever she chose to go. Even though Tea Cake is gone physically, he is there with Janie until the end of the novel when she finishes telling her story to Phoeby. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. (Hurston 193) Tea Cake s death freed Janie for the rest of her life. When he was gone she had nothing else to look after in life except herself. Love is lak de sea. It s a movin thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets and its different with every shore (Hurston 191). Janie is saying that love takes a different form depending on who you are with, each different person representing the shores. This shows Janie s growth because she says that no matter what you do, you have to grow into a love and you can not predict what your next experience is going to be or even who it is going to be with. You can not prejudge love. It just comes naturally or it does not. You either connect with a person or you do not. Janie takes each person she is close to and all the situations her life brings to her forms her own opinions on love. Janie grows from a dreamy child with her fairy tale thoughts on love to knowing that you can not predict what comes in the future. Janie went from letting everyone in her life telling her what love means to having a set definition, a personal definition, on what love really means to her. Janie finds in the end, that love is undeniable. It is a different experience for each person you spend your time with. Not one person can come and tell Janie anything different about love. Janie finally has a mind of her own. In her defining moment of identity formation, Janie “pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see” (Hurston 193). At the end of a novel focusing on self-revelation and self-formation, Janie survives with the knowledge she has claimed her horizon.