Throughout the entire novel Their Eyes Were Watching God , Hurtson shows the reader many things about love, human nature and violence. Through the characters in Their Eyes she shows us that love may seem ideal when it is not, that love has to be mutual, that love isn't always right, and that true love is undying. She also tells the reader that as a part of our nature, people place their insecurities on others, and that we judge before knowing the real truth. Violence is a theme that crops up quite often in Their Eyes ; the reader sees that violence can come from insecurities as well as jealousy. Perhaps the best example of the aforementioned is the ending of the story in which Janie shoots and kills Tea Cake. The best way to illustrate the different ways these messages come out through each relationship – starting with Logan Killicks.
In the beginning we see what Janie really sees as love, the bee for her blossom. The first man she marries is not what Janie sees as love. Within this first marriage the reader learns that love must be mutual. Janie says to her grandmother; “But Nanny, Ah wants to want him sometimes. Ah don't want him to do all the wantin'” (Hurston 23). Logan definitely wants Janie, but the feeling is not mutual, Janie wants to fit into the mold of husband and wife, but simply can't shake her vision.
Within Their Eyes the reader also is shown that love is not what it sometimes presents itself to be. When she meets Jody and he takes her away she thinks everything will be perfect, “From now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom,” (Hurston 32). When Janie met Joe Starks, everything looked like it was working out rather nicely. She found a man that wanted to treat her like a queen, she found a man that would let her speak. The bee for her bloom, unfortunately, wouldn't last long. ;
When Janie and Joe got to the new town and they asked Janie to speak, Joe says to the crowd: “…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,” (Hurston 43). Right then and there Joe denies Janie the ability to speak her mind. Hurston says: “She had never thought of making a speech, and didn't know if she cared to make one at all. It must have been the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another that took the bloom off of things. But anyway, she went down the road behind him that night feeling cold,” (Hurston 43). She thought she was getting into a new kind of relationship. Hurston here is showing that love isn't always right, meaning basically that things aren't what they may seem to be. It seemed like Joe would be the one that took care of her and let her be herself, but already he was silencing her.
After awhile of being married Hurston says: “Time came when she fought back with her tongue 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,” (Hurston 71). The longer they were together the image of Joe treating her like a queen was no longer present. Janie no longer had the bee for her bloom. Hurston goes on to say, “The bed was no longer a daisy-field for her and Joe to play in. It was a place where she went and laid down when she was sleepy and tired,” (Hurston 71).
When Janie felt that the relationship was crumbling to the ground she tried to defend herself. Joe made comments about her looking old and such, but he was in worse shape. He used is own shortcomings to elevate himself to make himself look good, and Janie the bumbling fool. Hurston here is commenting on one aspect of human nature: place their insecurities onto others. If he could make her look the fool, that didn't mess with the image he was trying to keep up around town. Janie eventually turns the tables on him one day in the store and Hurston had this to say about Janie's comments:
Janie had robbed him of his illusion of irresistible maleness that all men cherish, which was terrible. The thing that Saul's daughter had done to David. But Janie had done worse, she had cast down his empty armor before men and they had laughed, would keep laughing. When he paraded his possessions here after, they would not consider the two together. They'd look with envy at the things and pity the man that owned them. (Hurston 79-80)
She sees his flaws as well. She can tell his insecurities. He feels good when he can make her look like a dumb woman. Janie is everything but a dumb woman. She sees that he is trying to degrade her, and flies back at him the best she knows how. This was probably the best way to do it, because it knocked Joe down a peg. He thought that he was so much better than everyone else, when in reality he was just lying to himself to protect his reputation. By showing that Joe is a human just like the rest of them, the people no longer hold him high up on a pedestal.
We also learn from this relationship that violence comes sometimes from insecurities. After Janie stands up to him in front of the men, there are some thoughts of Joe that come out into the text. Hurston says: “Making all that show of humbleness and scorning him all the time! Laughing at him, and now putting the town up to do the same. Joe Starks didn't know the words for all this, but he knew the feeling. So he struck Janie with all his might and drove her from the store,” (Hurston 80). Joe sees all of his flaws being publicly displayed and sees no other option but to hit his wife. Instead of seeing that maybe what she said had some merit, he relied upon his anger and hit her with all his might.
When Janie met Tea Cake, it was somewhat like when she met Joe. Everything seemed like it would be perfect. Hurston says: “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,” (Hurston 128). It is as if with Tea Cake, she truly loved him the way she wanted love to be – a bee for her bloom. By saying that he “soul crawled out from its hiding place,” it shows that Janie deep down felt something that she hadn't felt before. She felt love in the deepest recesses of her soul.
Again with Tea Cake the reader sees violence in the relationship. The violence largely comes from jealousy as it did with Joe. Hurston writes: “Before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show that he was boss,” (Hurston 147). Tea Cake is using his own insecurities as justification for slapping her around. He is afraid of her leaving him for another man. He wants to show his possession of her. Janie doesn't stand up to him though, she stays.
The men in Janie's life aren't the only ones that experience jealousy and problems with insecurity. Hurston writes, “Janie learned what it felt like to be jealous. A little chunky girl took to picking a play out of Tea Cake in the fields and in the quarters,” (Hurston 136). When Janie asks Tea Cake if he cares for Nunkie, he replies; “Whut would Ah do wid dat lil chunk of a woman wid you around? She ain't good for nothin' exceptin' tuh set up in uh corner by de kitchen stove and break wood over her head. You'se something to make uh man forgit tuh git old and forgit tuh die,” (Hurston 138). Janie's jealousy ends rather quickly, but Tea Cake's goes on.
As the previous conversation continues, Tea Cake says something that reveals why he may be jealous. Hurston writes, “He dropped to the floor and put his head in her lap. ‘Well then, Janie, you meant whut you didn't say, ‘cause Ah never knowed you wuz so satisfied wid me lak dat. Ah kinda thought—,” (Hurston 159-160). Janie never told him that she was satisfied with him up until this point. This left time for Tea Cake's mind to wander on whether or not Janie was going to stay or not. This was evident when Janie met with Mrs. Turner in the past. Mrs. Turner was trying to get Janie to leave Tea Cake, and Janie couldn't see that. Tea Cake ends up listening to their conversation and says this to Janie, “She got some no-count brother she wants yuh tuh hook up wid and take keer of Ah reckon.' ‘Shucks! If dat's her notion she's barkin' up de wrong tree. Mah hands is full already,” (Hurston 143). Mrs. Turner infuriates Tea Cake because she is trying to lure her away from him. If Janie had been more specific with him, perhaps he wouldn't have taken it so badly.
This brings us to the end of the story where Janie shoots a rabid Tea Cake. Hurston brings out a point here about love as well, that true love is undying. Even before Tea Cake gets bitten by the rabid dog he asks Janie if she was mad at him for bringing her there and she responds, “Naw. We been tuhgether round two years. If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don't keer if you die at dusk. It's so many people never seen de light at all. Ah wuz fumblin' round and God opened the door,” (Hurston 159). Even though Janie being with Tea Cake during the hurricane could have very well killed her, she was still perfectly content being there and possibly dying with him.
After Tea Cake was bitten, Janie thinks that her care and affection will help with his cure. As Korobkin states in her essay, “Janie desperately hopes that he will recover his health and his trust in her, that her loving care will be effective, that the doctor will return with a miracle cure. At the same time, she considers her options carefully, and prepares for the worst. She spins the chamber of his pistol so that if he fires, his first three shots will be bulletless clicks. She loads and hides her own rifle,” (Korobkin 5). Janie clearly knows that it may not end well for Tea Cake. She can see his decline, and wants to save herself as well as him.
She knows that this is not Tea Cake any longer. Hurston writes: “The fiend in him must kill and Janie was the only thing living that he saw,” (Hurston 184). This was no longer the Tea Cake that she had fallen in love with, he had basically turned into the dog. Everything that Tea Cake had been before (jealous) had been amplified – it was no longer Tea Cake. Janie didn't want Tea Cake to die.
It was the meanest moment of eternity. A minute before she was just a scared human being fighting for its life. Now she was her sacrificing self with Tea Cake's head in her lap. She had wanted him to live so much and he was dead. No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep. Janie held his head tightly to her breast and wept and thanked him wordlessly for giving her the chance for loving service. She had to hug him tight for soon he would be gone, and she had to tell him for the last time. Then the grief and darkness descended. (Hurston 184).
She felt at the same time that while she loved Tea Cake with all her heart, she had to end his life. I think in some respects she didn't want to remember Tea Cake in that manner. Tea Cake had his difficulties with jealousy, but after he was bitten – it was no longer Tea Cake. To some extent some of Tea Cake's jealousy was amplified because after he was bitten Janie was to not sleep in the same bed as him, because the doctor was worried. Tea Cake says, “Ah ain't goin to no hospital no where. Put dat in yo' pipe and smoke it. Guess you tired uh waitin' on me and doing fuh me. Dat ain't de way Ah been wid you. Ah never is been able tuh do enough fuh yuh,” (Hurston 182). She showed an honest effort to get medicine so he could feel better. He misconstrued her efforts as her being sick of taking care of him, when in reality she was trying to care for him the only way she was felt was left – the doctor or the hospital. She tried to make Tea Cake better, but to no avail.
Hurston shows that true love is undying at the very end of the novel as well. She writes; “Then Tea Cake came prancing around her where she was and the song if the sign flew out the window and lit in the top of the pine trees. Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. 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,” (Hurston 193). Through everything that had happened in her life, the memories of Tea Cake will live on forever – because he was her vision. He helped her to see what true love was – undying, mutual, and not always perfect.
Their Eyes is largely a story about a woman's journey through life and her growth as an individual. When she married Logan Killicks, she was just a young child and didn't know what a marriage was, only within her vision – the bee for her blossom. When she married Joe Starks, she thought that everything was going to be great. Over time she realized that this love wasn't right. Eventually Joe died, and she met Tea Cake. Tea Cake was completely different from the other men in her life. Tea Cake showed her a new side of life, as Hurston wrote Janie's soul crawled out from its hiding place. Throughout the entire novel, we, as the reader are shown that love may not be as perfect as we plan it to be, but in the end not everything has to be perfect to fit the mold.
- Brandy Woodruff