Updated: Mar 30, 2019
Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford, by tracing her relationship with three very different men. The novel was written in 1937, but it didn’t gain mainstream recognition until the 1970s when Alice Walker championed the work of Hurston.
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Janie is the protagonist of Their Eyes Were Watching God. The novel revolves around her three marriages, told in flashback as a story that Janie tells to her friend Pheoby Watson.
Logan is Janie’s first husband, an older farmer who treats her poorly. She marries him at the insistence of her grandmother, Nanny who caught Janie kissing Johnny Taylor under a pear tree. Nanny is worried that Janie will follow the ways of her mother, Leafy, who leads a wild life, and wants her to marry for stability and security.
JOE “JODY” STARKS
Jody, Janie’s second husband, is a wealthy businessman and mayor of Eatonville, the small town in Florida where they live. He mistreats and her, and in one notable scene beats her for miscutting a piece of tobacco. When he dies, she inherits his money, giving her financial independence.
TEA CAKE WOODS
Janie’s third husband and true love is Vergible “Tea Cake” Woods. After marrying, they move from Eatonville, first to Jacksonville, and eventually to the Everglades where they work on a bean farm. They live a happy life until a hurricane hits their farm. In the ensuing flood, Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog while saving Janie from drowning. Tea Cake contracts rabies, and Janie has to shoot him in self-defense when he attacks her in a fit of madness.
Hurston frequently uses the imagery of a mule in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Nanny calls African Americans the “mules of the world”, and Janie compares the purchase of Matt Bonner’s skinny yellow mule to the Emancipation Proclamation. Zora Neale Hurston continues this theme in her collection of folktales, Mules and Men.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
* Time magazine listed Their Eyes Were Watching God as one the 100 greatest English language novels written after 1923. Explore the rest of the list here.
* The University of Central Florida is the home for the Zora Neale Hurston Digital Archive.
* Episode 105 of the Overdue podcast focuses on Their Eyes Were Watching God. Listen here…
* You can watch the 2005 film adaptation of the novel (starring Halle Berry as Janie) below:
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