Their Eyes Were Watching God
- Shafer, Audrey
- Date of entry: May-02-2006
- Last revised: Nov-28-2006
Hurston's powerful, lyric second novel centers on Janie Crawford, an African-American woman who tells her life story to her friend, Phoeby. Janie, raised in rural west Florida by her grandmother, is forced to marry, at age sixteen, a landowner, Logan Killicks. Far from giving her stability and respectability, Killicks instead treats her like a mule. Her image of love and life as a beautiful blossoming pear tree that grew in her grandmother's yard is dashed by the harsh realities of this loveless marriage.
She leaves Killicks to marry Joe Starks, an ambitious businessman who builds and becomes the mayor of an all black town. Joe also treats her as property--as a showpiece to bolster his image in the town, and does not allow her to befriend any one else. When Joe dies after seventeen years, Janie is finally financially and spiritually independent.
She falls in love with a young roustabout, Tea Cake--a man who (mostly) treats her as an equal partner and who returns her love fully. Despite the townspeople's disapproval, Janie and Tea Cake leave the town to make their way in the Florida muck, working side by side as itinerant farm hands.
During a hurricane and flood, Tea Cake saves Janie from a mad dog, but gets bitten himself. Tea Cake later develops fulminant rabies and is too late to receive effective treatment. Tea Cake turns on Janie and she must defend herself. The novel closes back in the frame of telling the story to Phoeby, of teaching Phoeby about love: "Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore." Janie, reflective, mature, and strong, has gained wisdom from her life and suffering.
Harper & Row