Different characters in the novel struggle to find a way to cope and thrive as individuals within communities and within the natural world. Janie searches for individual fulfillment by attempting to find her own voice and independence; Jody seeks total control (through acting as Eatonville's mayor or by forcing Janie to wear her hair in a headscarf out of irrational jealousy); Tea Cake desires a fun-loving approach to life, bordering on the pathological (stealing Janie's money without thinking anything of it, for example, or facing down the hurricane, ultimately paving the way toward his death).
Of course, the novel most extensively explores Janie and her life-long attempt to tune out judgment from the world around her and find power in her own voice. Janie's search for independence reveals her desire to detach from the pressures of judgment and jealousy from her husbands and townspeople and to think for herself. The lessened pressure of a power struggle having to do with judgment and jealousy in Janie's marriage with Tea Cake is what ultimately permits Janie to find fulfillment at the end of the novel. In this way, the end of the novel tells us that Janie's search for independence emerged, at least in part, of her ability to tune out the evils of judgment and jealousy that ultimately arose in response to her drive for freedom.
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy ThemeTracker
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy 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."
"Sometimes God gits familiar wid us womenfolks too and talks His inside business. He told me how surprised He was 'bout y'all turning out so smart after Him makin' yuh different; and how surprised y'all is goin' tuh be if you ever find out you don't know half as much bout us as you think you do."
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.
Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon – for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you – and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter's neck tight enough to choke her.
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.
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.
"Tain't de poorness, it's de color and de features. Who want any lil ole black baby layin' up in de baby buggy lookin' lak uh fly in buttermilk? Who wants to be mixed up wid uh rusty black man, and uh black woman goin' down de street in all dem loud colors, and whoopin' and hollerin' and laughin' over nothin'?"
It was inevitable that she should accept any inconsistency and cruelty from her deity as all good worshippers do from theirs. All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood.
"Janie is wherever Ah wants tuh be. Dat's de kind uh wife she is and Ah love her for it."
The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.
Tea Cake was lying with his eyes closed and Janie hoped he was asleep. He wasn't. A great fear had took hold of him. What was this thing that set his brains fire and grabbed at his throat with iron fingers? Where did it come from and why did it hang around him?
She talked. . . . She just sat there and told and when she was through she hushed.
"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.