The Journey of Janie to Find Herself in Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is a world renowned novel about a woman’s journey to find self revelation. Along this journey Janie, the protagonist of the novel, encounters many gender stereotypes. As if being a woman isn’t tough enough, Janie is also black making it even harder for her to persevere. Though the odds are against her she manages to pre- vail. When reading the novel, one could conclude that Janie is a feminist yet others might dis- agree.

Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and eco- nomic equality to men. Therefore, a feminist is someone who supports or advocates for femi- nism. When examining Janie’s actions it is clear that she demonstrates both feminist qualities in addition to qualities that a feminist would not respect. These qualities are, but not limited to, in- dependent, confident, and defiant. The less respected qualities include passive, submissive and dutiful.

There were plenty of independent women working in the field with the men, however, Janie was not one of those women. It wasn’t because she didn’t want to or because she wasn’t in- dependent; she already had a job as the clerk inside. “So the very next morning Janie got ready to pick beans with Tea Cake. There was a suppressed murmur when she picked up a basket and went to work” (133). Everyone assumed Janie thought of herself as too good for field work, but she proved them all wrong by going to pick beans.

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Despite the preconceived notions of the oth- ers, Janie actually enjoyed working in the field alongside Tea Cake.

After returning from burying Tea Cake, the women on the porch noticed that Janie is not dressed in “appropriate” attire. “What she doin coming back here in dem overalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?-Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?” (2). Women at the time were always expected to dress nicely, so it was a huge shock for them to see Janie return in overalls. Overalls were considered homely and were to be worn only in the fields. Janie is openly ignoring this unspoken rule. She feels as though regardless of her attire, she is still very much a woman. Another example of Janie exuding confidence is when she goes to look for herself in the looking glass.

“Then thought about herself. Years ago, she had told her girl self to wait for her in the looking glass. It had been a long time since she had remembered. Perhaps she’d better look. She went over to the dresser and looked hard at her skin and features. The young girl was gone, but a handsome woman had taken her place” (87). As Janie looks at herself, she is happy with what she sees. She has accepted that the young girl she once knew was gone and is proud of the woman she now sees.

Throughout their marriage, Joe is constantly attacking Janie’s self-esteem. Though it may appear that Janie had become almost numb to the mistreatment, there are moments where she speaks out against the abuse. After Joe insults Janie’s age, she decides to voice her opinion. “Naw, Ah ain’t no young gal no mo’ but den Ah ain’t no old woman neither. Ah reckon Ah looks mah age too. But Ah’m uh woman every inch of me, and Ah know it.” Janie is proud to be a woman of her age and she goes out of her way to describe that to Joe in detail. She lets him know that his words and actions can not and will not change how she feels about herself.

Janie also tells Joe “But Ah ain’t goin’ outa here and Ah ain’t gointuh hush. Naw, you gointuh listen tuh me one time befo’ you die. Have yo’ way all yo’ life, trample and mash down and then die ruther than tuh let yo’self heah ’bout it. Listen, Jody, you ain’t de Jody ah run off down de road wid. You’se whut’s left after he died. Ah run off tuh keep house wid you in uh wonderful way. But you wasn’t satisfied wid me de way Ah was. Naw! Mah own mind had tuh be squeezed and crowded out tuh make room for yours in me” (86). Janie does something that many women at the time would not dare to do. Not only is she standing up to Jody, but she is standing up to him as he lie in his death bed.

Hurston points out, “Time came when she fought back with her tongues as best she could, but it didn’t do her any good. It just made Joe do more. He wanted her submission and he’d keep on fighting until he felt he had it. So gradually, she pressed her teeth together and learned to hush” (71). Basically, Hurston is saying that rather than continuing to use her voice and speak up, Janie gradually becomes passive.

Though there are times when Janie stands up for herself, the bad outweighs the good and it doesn’t change her situation much. If anything, speaking up makes life harder for Janie. So during her marriage to Joe, Janie comes to accept his control over her, since he is unrelenting and it just seems easier to just give in. She buries her voice deep in- side and forgets about it for a bit.

Janie was an independent women, however, when she was asked to do something, she does it very dutifully. “‘I god, Janie,’ Starks said impatiently, ‘why don’t you go on and see whut Mrs. Bogle want? Whut you waitin’ on?’ Janie wanted to hear the rest of the play-acting and how it ended, but she got up sullenly and went inside” (70). Rather than sticking up for herself and saying no, she does what Joe tells her. It clear she is unhappy, but she still complies.

In conclusion, whether or not Janie would be considered a feminist is still very much up for debate. In her journey to find herself she ultimately finds her voice. She speaks out against the emotional, physical, and mental abuse she encounters, but only after she gains confidence. Without confidence and self love, it’s not likely she would have been able to defend herself through her various marriages. Though a feminist might not agree with her being passive, sub- missive, and defiant, her independence, courage, and defiance are very respectable.

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The Journey of Janie to Find Herself in Their Eyes Were Watching God. (2023, May 06). Retrieved from

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