Their Eyes Were Watching God is Hurston’s best-known work, a novel that centers around Janie, a poor black girl raised in Florida by her grandmother, who is always searching for something more. Her struggle with who she wants to be versus who others expect her to be is a central conflict throughout the novel. In addition to Janie’s journey to self-realization, the novel examines other important themes, including defining gender roles, the difference between love and marriage, silence, and the tension created by a social hierarchy within the African American community itself.
Their Eyes Were Watching God Themes, Symbols, and Motifs
THE PEAR TREE & SPRING
THE TOWN MULE
THE EATONVILLE STORE
Jody demands she tie it up under a head-rag. For the men, Janie’s hair is a sexual temptation; for the women, it gives rise to jealousy and anger because of the effect it has on their men, and because they can’t grow such beautiful hair. It also gives Janie a perceived higher power as it is a result of her white ancestry.
Under a blossoming pear tree, teenage Janie envisions that this is what marriage is: a true union and partnership that flows naturally together. She searches for that pear tree moment in her marriages to Logan and Joe and finds it with Tea Cake.
Matt Bonner’s mule becomes a legend to Eatonville residents. It's half-starved, old, and cruelly treated, so he often runs away and shows up around town. Janie senses a kinship with the mule. Janie mutters about the injustice of it, and Jody overhears her. He buys the mule “to let it rest.” The mule lives out the rest of his days as a celebrity.
When Jody arrives in Eatonville, he finds a few people with no direction or drive. Jody knows there's lots to be done: the first of which is to build a town store. Janie finds it difficult to work in. She finds the store isolating and a burden; however, it becomes a social heart for much of the town.
The hurricane is devastating, upending the life that Janie and Tea Cake built. Tea Cake contracts rabies trying to save Janie, and she has to kill him because the disease destroys his mind. Janie's happiness and security are ripped away with his death, and she must find new meaning from her experiences.