Sexual being in “Their Eyes were Watching God” by Zora Neale

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Updated: Mar 17, 2020
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What did it mean for a black woman character in the 1930’s to be a sexual being? In the novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” written by Zora Neale Hurston made Janie a sexual being in the 1930s which meant that she was in touch with nature and had the freedom to express her thoughts. It was not always that way as Hurston criticized the oppression of women’s sexual being before the 1930s through Janie’s marriages with Joe Starks and Logan Killicks as they represent society and the oppression that Janie faced because she wanted to be more than a tool and wanted to embrace her feminity. It was not until she met Tea Cake, who represents the 1930s and the peak of the Harlem Renaissance, that she finally fulfilled her quest for voice, freedom, and her return to nature as she could embrace the sexual being that she was when she was with him.

To start off with Janie awakened her sexual side when she witnessed a bee penetrate a pear tree where both the pear tree and the bee represent the her sexual being and nature. It also creates forms an idea in Janie’s mind of love that is naive because it is so unrealistic. Her journey to find this kind of love gets thwarted by her Nanny who pushed her goals that she could not achieve onto Janie and forced her to marry Logan Killicks, a middle-class man so that Janie can live a middle-class life. Janie does not share the same views as Nanny as she said, “The vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree but Janie didn’t know how to tell Nanny that” (Hurston). Since she had these unrealistic standards the notion of even marrying a man that was old and ugly and for stability and not love made Janie upset. Also, Logan was desecrating her pear tree because she was not marrying him for love but for materialism which contradicts what the pear tree stands for which is nature and instead of her meeting him naturally it was a forceful encounter.

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Furthermore, Janie’s forced to marriage to Logan represents women’s loss of voice and restriction as a sexual being in the 1920s, as she feels no excitement towards him and women married men for convenience rather than love because they needed support. It was not until her marriage with Tea Cake that she finally returns to nature as she says this about Tea Cake, “He could be a bee to a blossom—a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps” (Hurston). Just like when Janie first experienced the pear tree at age 16 she became overwhelmed with Tea Cake too. Also, he depicts nature and life because they talk and listen to each other. This allowed her to act on the nature of her emotions because she was comfortable with him and was able to express them. She did not have to force it as she did with Logan it was just natural. Additionally, Janie also was married to Joe Starks. He represents the oppression of women’s sexual beings before the 1930s because he made Janie hide her feminity by covering her hair with a headwrap. To Janie that was her appealing attribute as she gained many compliments because of it but it was also a sign of her white heritage. Joe Starks much like Logan discarded Janie’s thoughts and restricted her voice and freedom in result their relationship as she described it was, “taking the bloom off things”.

When Janie said that it meant that their relationship was dying because he silenced her when the town wanted her to give a speech so she no longer felt an attraction to him since he oppressed her. Joe also represents the sentiment in the 1920s because, in his eyes, women were not meant to be in the public eye or intelligent enough to give their thoughts. On the other hand, Tea Cake embraced her feminity and gave her freedom. He did nor make her wear anything that would hide her hair instead he embraced it. An example of this is when he was combing her hair and he said, “Ah been wishin’ so bad tuh git mah hands in yo’ hair. It’s so pretty. It feels jus’ lak underneath uh dove’s wing next to mah face.” By embracing Janie and completing her Tea Cake did something that her previous husbands never did and because he did not confine her they were able to give and take in the relationship and were always able to reach a happy medium.

Janie was finally able to fulfill her quest to have a voice. In the end, In the novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” written by Zora Neale Hurston made Janie go on a quest to become a sexual being and she achieved that in the 1930s with Tea Cake because she was in touch with nature and had the freedom to express her thoughts. Moreover, it took Janie a lot to get what she finally wanted as she had to go through her marriages with Joe and Logan and readers are able to see the struggles that women went through before the Harem Renaissance where they could not speak their thoughts and were kept at a distance because they were seen as less than men. Conclusively, being a black woman in the 1930s as a sexual being meant that it was a long journey tough journey that came with a lot of lessons.

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Sexual Being in “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale. (2020, Mar 17). Retrieved from