Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Their Eyes Were Watching God, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon

Their Eyes Were Watching God focuses its plot both on Janie's series of romantic relationships as well as on Janie's individual quest for self-fulfillment and spiritual nourishment. In the novel, Janie's marriages are what most concretely impede upon her individual quest, but in doing so they actually force Janie to become aware of what it is that she wants for herself as an individual. In the cases of Jody and Tea Cake, Janie interprets her initial sexual appetite for these men as a sign of love, and as a result, a reason for marriage. Given that Jody entirely strips Janie of independence, his death allows her to move toward a recognition of herself as a self-possessed individual. Janie's attraction to Tea Cake initially emerges from her feeling that he gives her exactly what Jody did not: a sense of equality. However, her eventual marriage to Tea Cake still has its problems and impinges on her personal independence.

For instance, Tea Cake steals Janie's money and spends it on food and alcohol for his friends; he causes Janie to feel intense jealousy by sneaking off with Nunkie and then proceeds to comfort Janie through sex, rather than by listening and validating her emotions directly. After Tea Cake's death, though, Janie realizes that despite difficulty, there were real elements of their marriage that gave her a sense of individual fulfillment and equality with him. As a result, even when Tea Cake is no longer alive, Janie is able to express her continued feeling of individual fulfillment, as she remains nourished by the spirit of Tea Cake, who she still loves, but is able to live on her own. At the end of the novel, Janie realizes the possibility of coexistence between love and a sense of self-fulfillment and independence.

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Desire, Love, and Independence ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Desire, Love, and Independence appears in each chapter of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Desire, Love, and Independence Quotes in Their Eyes Were Watching God

Below you will find the important quotes in Their Eyes Were Watching God related to the theme of Desire, Love, and Independence.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by time. That is the life of men.

Related Symbols: The Horizon
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

This abstract, almost allegorical paragraph opens the novel. Janie has not yet appeared, striding back through Eatonville after a long disappearance.

In these first crucial sentences, Hurston introduces independence and desire as two of the novel's themes: here, the unnamed men look towards the ever-receding horizon, a symbol of freedom and possibility. These men all want the ships' invisible, imagined cargo, though some cannot access it and so they turn away "in resignation." (Note that Hurston calls these individuals "Watchers," gesturing to the book's title.) Janie, the protagonist, grapples with her own desire for independence and fulfilling romantic love throughout the novel, explaining to Pheoby (several chapters later) that she has traveled to "de horizon and back."

However, the word "men" is hardly synonymous with mankind — Hurston describes women in the next paragraph, women who "forget all those thins they don't want to remember" and display much more pragmatism than men.In this way, readers begin to understand the importance of gender in the novel, as well as Janie's own curious position in society. Her desire for independence and experience seems more stereotypically masculine than feminine, alienating her from men and women alike.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze 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!

Related Characters: Janie Crawford
Related Symbols: The Pear Tree
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Janie explains to Pheoby that her "conscious life" begins with the pear tree: a young Janie lies under the blooming and buzzing tree for hours at a time, watching the communion of flowers and bees.

This becomes one of the novel's central images, informing Janie's understanding of a reciprocated romantic love. Neither bee nor flower dominates or hurts the other — they are equals, united in their embrace. Of course, Hurston's language here is as lush and abundant as the tree itself and she zeroes in on the smallest, sexualized details (including "the dust-bearing bee" and "the thousand sister-calyxes"). Even the exclamation mark after "marriage" mirrors the tree's pseudo-sexual climax, its "ecstatic shiver."

Janie witnesses this insemination, this marriage, at a young age and yet cannot find the same beauty in her own relationships with Logan and Jody, neither of whom treats her as an equal. Even Janie's posture — she stretches under the tree — matches the "arch" of the flowers towards the insect. Only Tea Cake truly loves Janie as a bee loves a blossom, stirring up in her a "soul-crushing love."

"Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it's some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don't know nothin' but what we see…De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see."

Related Characters: Nanny Crawford (speaker), Janie Crawford
Related Symbols: Mule
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

When Nanny catches sight of Janie kissing Johnny Taylor, she calls her in to the house and broaches the topic of marriage. Janie is a woman now, she explains, and she should therefore marry a "decent" suitor like Logan Killicks, rather than someone "trashy." Janie's resistance leads Nanny to describe their world's social hierarchy: white men at the top, black women at the bottom.

Hurston here introduces the symbolic mule, which comes to stand for victimization, particularly that of many of the novel's black women. Again and again Janie pushes back against her fate, a life of thankless physical and emotional labor without freedom or joy. Logan Killicks, her first husband, even buys her a mule and Janie sees her own plight reflected in the animal.

Not only does this section have symbolic value, but it also raises questions about Hurston's endless shifts between dialect and a more traditional narrative voice. In this way, Hurston puts the two styles on a single plane, proving to her contemporaneous readers that all dialects have equal literary merit. As they navigate this complicated text, one in which no register is ever stable, readers must remain engaged and attentive — authority, particularly in the novel's world, can reside within grammar and diction.

Chapter 3 Quotes

She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Logan Killicks
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 3, Janie discusses her romantic woes with Nanny: now three months married, Janie still feels no affection for Logan. Nanny encourages her to "wait awhile," and yet in the privacy of her room, she prays for Janie's future. Nanny dies at the end of the chapter, and Janie begins "to stand around the gate and expect things" again.

Here, the narrator associates womanhood with disillusionment — Janie only becomes a woman when she understands that marriage does not "compel love like the sun the day." Readers can consider this definition in conjunction with Nanny's earlier one, her conviction that Janie is a woman because she has kissed Johnny Taylor.

The relationship between marriage and love is a thorny, messy one throughout the novel, following Janie's first experience of the pear tree. She sees the love shared by bees and flowers and thinks: So this was marriage! Yet she goes on to enter, and then leave, two unfortunate marriages, both devoid of passion and mutual respect. Hurston hardly wants to prove Janie wrong; instead, she encourages us to consider the complexity of marriage, at once a legal contract and an emotional one.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Janie pulled back a long time because he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Jody Starks
Related Symbols: The Horizon, The Pear Tree
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Janie meets Jody Starks while Logan is away, buying a second mule in Lake City. She is intrigued by his "citified, stylish" manner, and they end up meeting every day and discussing his ambitions. In this section, Janie has not yet decided to elope with him, but harbors certain doubts "because he [does] not represent sun-up and pollen."

Here, Janie has a sort of premonition, a sense that Jody will not provide the love and passion she so desperately desires: he has nothing of the pear tree about him, but only the "far horizon." Yet the horizon is still an important symbol to Janie, and Jody's worldliness and style give her a glimpse of the world beyond her small town. She wants experience and excitement in addition to a perfect love; though Jody can only deliver the former, she still decides to run off with him, abandoning Logan (who offers neither).

Chapter 5 Quotes

"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."

Related Characters: Jody Starks (speaker), Janie Crawford
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

The town congregates in Jody's store and celebrates his success, agreeing that he should serve as a temporary mayor. While he accepts the townspeople's congratulations, he does not accept their suggestion that Janie make a speech — "her place is in de home," seen but not heard.

Of course, this leaves Janie feeling "cold" on the way home, not quite resentful but certainly wary of Jody's attitude towards womanhood and marriage. Readers can view this moment as another warning sign, foreshadowing the inevitable rupture between the two characters. Jody wishes to control and master Janie; he does not wish for emotional and intellectual equality with her. Indeed, he speaks with astonishing condescension in this quote, referring to her in the third person, making no acknowledgment of her presence or her personal desires.

This moment might remind readers of Nanny Crawford's assertion that a black woman is society's "mule." In many ways, Jody defies social conventions by becoming mayor, a traditionally white role; yet he does not allow his wife to do the same, to become a person rather than a possession.

Chapter 6 Quotes

"Nature is de first of everything. Ever since self was self, nature been keepin' folks off of red-hot stoves. Dat caution you talkin' 'bout ain't nothin' but uh humbug."

Related Characters: Sam Watson (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

Lige Moss and Sam Watson, two townspeople, engage in a long, playful conversation about nature and caution, attempting to answer the question: "Whut is it dat keeps uh man from gettin’ burnt on uh red-hotstove—caution or nature?" Sam argues for nature, Lige for caution, and all ofEatonville seems to gather around the two men, including Janie herself.

This discussion of nature and control calls to mind many of the book's themes. Sam believes that nature is the first and "strongest" thing God made, that everything else (including human ideas of caution) is simply a byproduct of nature. Janie's experience of the world corresponds to Sam's cosmology: she first witnesses the pear tree, nature at its ecstatic peak, and this memory becomes a standard by which she judges all relationships. Again and again, Janie acts according to her instincts, throwing caution to the wind when she runs off with first Jody, then Tea Cake. Hurston rarely presents caution in a favorable light and her heroine's choices, however rash, always seem inevitable, not so much right as natural and instinctive.

Chapter 8 Quotes

The young girl was gone, but a handsome woman had taken her place. She tore off the kerchief from her head and let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Janie attempts to explain herself to the dying Jody, which only makes him defensive and upset. He breathes his last with "a sound of strife in his throat" — and in the immediate aftermath of his death, Janie evaluates her own reflection and lets down her hair.

Her hair is a sort of weathervane, indicating to characters and readers alike how free and powerful she feels at any given moment. In the novel's first scene, for instance, the men of Eatonville notice the "great rope of black hair swinging to her waist" as she strides through town: she is a new woman, acquainted with the complexities of love and desire. And Jody first notices her "heavy hair" as she stands by the water pump. Yet she keeps her hair tied up throughout their married life, as their relationship is not egalitarian or fair but lopsided. She is more servant than wife; only after his death can she free herself and her hair.

And yet Janie's luxurious hair, along with her lighter skin, is also a burden, something that obsesses and confuses other people. Mrs. Turner, a character with a fraught relationship to her own ethnicity, is sure that Janie and her brother would make an excellent match because Janie's appearance is not offensive to her. While Janie's hair stands for her freedom and sexuality, it can also disempower her.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Somebody wanted her to play. Somebody thought it natural for her to play. That was even nice. She looked him over and got little thrills from every one of his good points.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Related Symbols: Checkers
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 10, Tea Cake enters Janie's store, buys a pack of cigarettes, and challenges her to a game of checkers. She feels an immediate affinity for him, the first man who has treated her as an equal.

Hurston makes Janie's relief clear in this passage: the concise sentences and the repetition of the subject "somebody" (and the verb "play") reveal to readers Janie's state of mind, her happy amazement. Jody played checkers too, but Jody only ever asked her to "fetch" the game, never to play a game with him. This quiet moment between Tea Cake and Janie has their entire dynamic locked up within it — the playfulness, the respect, the attraction, and even the danger. (She appraises his body the way men have appraised her body throughout the novel.) Tea Cake wins the game, but Janie reaches out to stop him and they touch for the first time.

Of course, like any game, Checkers leaves room for dishonesty and cheating. Janie knows this and articulates it, and yet it does not stop her from beginning her most fulfilling and exciting relationship.

Chapter 11 Quotes

He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom – a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God.

Related Characters: Tea Cake
Related Symbols: The Pear Tree
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Janie and Tea Cake spend more and more time together. One night they go fishing, and on another he plays her music and combs her hair. She finds this sudden intimacy at once confusing and refreshing.

Here, Hurston alludes very obviously to the first pear tree passage: Janie concludes that Tea Cake could be a"bee to a blossom," fitting into her original notion of romantic love and marriage. Hurston repeats and then expands upon the word "blossom" in the second sentence, bringing Tea Cake's lushness and excess into the text itself. And she does the same thing in the third and fourth sentences, repeating the word "crushing" and then elaborating on it. All of these repetitions and fragments slow down the plot, making this moment into a sort of dream or fantasy.

Hurston concludes this passage with the sentence: "He was a glance from God." This allusion, too, is an obvious gesture at the novel's title. Many characters are "Watchers" in Hurston's work — they watch the horizon or God or something else. But how then do we understand a character who is himself not a watcher, but a "glance?"

Chapter 13 Quotes

The thing made itself into pictures and hung around Janie's bedside all night long. Anyhow, she wasn't going back to Eatonville to be laughed at and pitied. She had ten dollars in her pocket and twelve hundred in the bank.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

Janie and Tea Cake head to Jacksonville, where they marry and rent a room. However, when Tea Cake disappears one morning, Janie begins to consider the cautionary tale of Annie Tyler, an elderly woman abandoned and robbed by her young lover, Who Flung. In this section, "the thing" is Annie Tyler's unfortunate demise.

Janie's despair lurks below the surface of this passage. In an attempt to distract herself, she has already cleaned the room and sipped coffee with the landlady. And yet none of this dispels her fear; Annie Tyler's story seems to take on material weight — it makes "itself into pictures," a physical presence that suffocates and torments Janie.

However, in three short sentences, Janie manages to bolster her own resolve and find a sort of peace. The word "Anyhow" signals to readers that Janie has extraordinary resilience and resourcefulness. Though Tea Cake may have taken her two hundred dollars, Janie still has money in the bank, unlike poor Annie Tyler: the snappy parallelism "ten dollars in her pocket and twelve hundred in the bank" points to Janie's optimism, her independence, and her enduring good spirits.

He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Tea Cake goes off gambling one night, only to return battered and bruised, covered in cuts. Despite his wounds, his earnings are considerable — three hundred and twenty two dollars — and this gambling prowess astonishes Janie. She watches him as he falls asleep, feeling a pure love for her new husband.

Readers might consider the verb "crush" in this passage and its relation to the earlier sentences in Chapter 11: "He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world... Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took." Does this verb, at once violent and sensual, encapsulate the relationship between Tea Cake and Janie? Hurston even elaborates on Janie's psychic state here: the violence of her "self-crushing love" opens something within her, allowing "her soul [to crawl] out from its hiding place." We're seemingly not meant to understand this paradoxical image — something crushing shut in order for something else to crawl out — but only to appreciate and feelit.The verb "crawl" also reminds us of insects, bees buzzing around a blooming tree, in yet another allusion to Janie's pear tree experience of childhood.

Chapter 15 Quotes

Janie seethed. But Tea Cake never let go. They wrestled on until they were doped with their own fumes and emanations; till their clothes had been torn away; till he hurled her to the floor and held her there melting her resistance with the heat of his body, doing things with their bodies to express the inexpressible.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Janie loves their new life in the Everglades, she soon suspects that Tea Cake has become attached to someone else, a young woman named Nunkie. When she finds them "struggling" together in the sugar cane field, she confronts Tea Cake and they resolve the dispute with their bodies.

In this passage, violence and love are inextricable: Hurston uses the language of battle, verbs like "seethe" and "wrestle" and "hurl," to describe a sexual encounter. (We can see the heightening tension in the text itself, which features an accumulation of phrases beginning with "till.") And yet Hurston does not paint a picture of marital abuse or injustice. Unlike Jody or Logan, Tea Cake treats Janie as a relative equal, without humiliating her or manipulating her.

Hurston also writes that Janie and Tea Cake "express the inexpressible" with their bodies. Words suddenly fail them and they must resort to another, more primal and urgent language. This raises important questions about verbal and non-verbal communication in the book — when can a character transcend language? And is this instance, in which Tea Cake has sex with Janie instead of apologizing to her or discussing her worries, an example of action actually being more problematic and confusing than language?

Chapter 20 Quotes

"Ah done been tuh de horizon and back and now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons. Dis house ain't so absent of things lak it used tuh be befo' Tea Cake come along. It's full uh thoughts, 'specially dat bedroom."

Related Characters: Janie Crawford (speaker), Tea Cake
Related Symbols: The Horizon
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Having wrapped up her tale, Janie tells Pheoby that she is ready to begin her life in Eatonville anew. Her experiences of the world do not torment her so much as provide her with happy memories.

In the novel's opening paragraph, Hurston describes the bleak "life of men," those who keep their eyes trained on the horizon and yet never move towards it. Janie follows her own path, however, and Hurston reintroduces the horizon in the novel's final chapter in order to differentiate these unhappy men from Janie, who has 'been tuh de horizon and back." Despite setbacks and hurricanes and abuse, Janie finds companionship and love, as well as independence. (Her use of the first person and the possessive "mah house" is especially powerful.)

Janie tells Pheoby that her house is no longer "absent of things" — in this way, Hurston makes a sort of reflexive gesture towards the power of narrative. Janie's own life story will keep her company in the coming years.

Of course he wasn't dead. 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. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish net…She called in her soul to come and see.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Related Symbols: The Horizon
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Janie retires for the night, yet she stays up reliving her recent memories of Tea Cake's death and the trial. She understands that Tea Cake can "never be dead" as long as she protects his memory.

This is a striking image — a person's thoughts and memories projected "against the wall" — not dissimilar from Janie's moment of anxiety in Chapter 13, when her fear makes "itself into pictures and [hangs around her bedside] all night long." In other words, Huston imagines a world in which the boundary between internal and external is porous. Readers might consider whether or not this permeability relates to the boundary between omniscient narration and dialogue in the novel.

Not only does Hurston circle back to the first chapter by way of the symbolic horizon, but she hints at an ocean in both moments, too. She mentions a ship in the first paragraph and a "great fish-net" in the final one, giving a slight Biblical undercurrent to her work. (In the New Testament, Christ calls his disciples "fishers of men," and several of them are former fishermen.) With this ending and the obvious connections between fishing and storytelling, Hurston turns her novel into a sort of fairytale. Their Eyes Were Watching God is about both the language of power and the power of language.