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.
Desire, Love, and Independence ThemeTracker
Desire, Love, and Independence Quotes in Their Eyes Were Watching God
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.
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!
"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."
She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman.
Janie pulled back a long time because he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon.
"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."
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.