Rising against Gender Roles
Set in the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God addressed the role sexism had in Florida communities at that time. The main character, Janie, faced an immense amount of sexism by her peers and was able to rise against this at the end of the book. Though Janie was able to gain her independence, many other women were not able to do so because sexism was the social norm.
The author, Zora Neale Hurston, used the role of sexism in Janie’s life, and her rise against it to make the work more meaningful. The sexism Janie had to face as a woman is a major theme throughout the story. Even at a young age, Janie knew that there were certain expectations based on her gender, such as marrying someone she did not love. The author explained, “She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman”( Hurston 25). During this period, women were expected to marry whomever their family wished. Janie dreamed that one day she would marry someone she loved, but she was wrong. Her grandma wanted her to marry someone who would provide her with the life she herself always wanted. Janie realized that a part of womanhood is knowing that one does not marry for love, only convenience. Janie’s first husband no respect for her and believed she had no say in anything. Her husband said, “And now we’ll listen tuh uh few words uh encouragement from Mrs. Mayor Starks.’The burst of applause was cut short by Joe taking the floor himself.’Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no speech-makin’.
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Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home’” (Hurston 43). Joe believed that all woman should stay in the house and should not be able to speak her mind: he had a traditional mindset where women were meant to be property and told what to do by men. After her husband died, Janie moved to a new town and met the Tea Cake. For the most part, he always respected her as a woman but there were some instances he clearly did not. Tea Cake said, “Jes lak uh lil girl wid her Easter dress on. Even nice! He locked the door and shook it to be sure and handed her the key. ‘Come on now, Ah’ll see yuh inside yo’ door and git on down de Dixie”(Hurston 98). Even though Tea Cake tried to treat men and women equally, he unknowingly considered women weaker than men, he assumed that women need men to escort them back home safely. He also referred to Janie as a little girl with her Easter dress on that diminished her image of maturity. Though noble, Tea Cake’s language and offer to walk Janie home can be viewed as sexist as was the way attempted to get invited into her house. This ties into the sexism that is prevalent in many other characters throughout the work. As seen through this passage, a character that appeared as the only male to not show sexism subtly did. By making the sexism towards Janie very clear throughout the book, readers see her struggle of always wanting to do what she wants to do.