Their Eyes were Watching God: Sexism in Florida Communities
Set in the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God addresses the role sexism had in Florida communities. The main character, Janie, faces an immense amount of sexism by her peers and is able to rise against at the end of the book. Though she was able to gain her independence, many other women were not able to do so because sexism was the social norm. Throughout the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston uses the role of sexism of Janie and her rise against it to make the text more meaningful.
A major theme throughout the book was the sexism Janie had to face being a woman. Even at a young age, she knew that as a woman there were certain things that she had to do, like marrying someone she did not love. “She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.”( Huston 25). During this period of time, women were expected to marry whoever their family wanted them to.
How it works
Janie dreamed that one day she would marry someone she loved, but she was wrong. Her grandma wanted her to marry someone that would provide her with the life she herself always wanted. A part of womanhood is knowing that you will never marry for love, only convenience which she realized. When Janie married her first husband, he had no respect for her, and believed she had no say in anything, “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’. 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 mind sense where woman were meant to be property and told what to do by males. After her husband died, Janie moved to a new town and met the character Tea Cake. For the most part he always respected her as a woman. In this instance he did not, “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”(Huston 98). Even though tea cake tries to treat men and women equally, he still on knowingly considers women weaker than men. He assumes women need men to escort them back home safely. he calls genie A little girl with her Easter dress on, somewhat this minute sharing her image in seriousness. Though noble, teacakes language and offered to walk Genie Home can be read as sexist or his way of attempting to get an invitation into her house. A prevalent theme throughout the book is sexism. As seen through this coat, a character that seems like the only mail to not show sexism does. By making the sexism of Janie very clear throughout the book, the readers are able to see her struggle of always wanting to do what she wants to do.
In the twentieth century, many believed that woman only belonged in the house and not in the outside world. Many women wanted to be more than a housewife and tried their best to rise above that title. “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”(Hurston 1).
According to the narrator, men are valued more by size so society. They know that their dreams are on attainable, as seen through the distant ships that really come to sure. When they realize that their dreams are unrealistic, men become reassigned to their feet and continue their daily lives. Well on the other hand, woman close that metaphorical distance by failing to distinguish between dreams and reality. Their dreams are their reality, they live more realistic lives. It also introduces genies motivation to pursue her dreams and achieve them. In this southern society, women have little options to what they can achieve in their life. Men constantly tell them what they can do, being a black woman is even worse.
So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule ud de world so fur as Ah can see.”” (Hurston 14). Black women, as far as Nanny can see, get the worst lot in life. While white men are highest in the hierarchy and look down on black men, the black men in turn drop the burden on the shoulders of their women. Everyone treats black women like animals. The society’s Janie lived in rarely valued women, let alone women of color. Sexism is very common the communities shown throughout the book.
Towards The end of the book, Janie began to gain her independence and separate herself from the sexism that filled her community’s. After Tea cake died, Janie was able to show the knowledge she gained as being a strong independent woman. “”Dey gointuh make ‘miration ‘cause mah love didn’t work lak they love, if dey ever had any. Then you must tell ‘em dat love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch.
Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.”” (Hurston 191) Janie lectures Phoeby that love is not a fix thing that is the same for everyone who experiences it. And said it is as food and changing as the sea, only shoot by the shores of me in it meets, society has a normative in and flexible idea of what love is, when actual true love is different for everyone. Jenny has had many chances that lab but I always lose them somehow. She always seem to have hope for a future love.
After losing teacakes she was able to gain her independence. It makes a full circle back to the beginning of the book with the horizon, which makes the ending satisfying. After being bite by a dog with rabies, Tea Cake became crazy and delusional. The first major decision she made in her own was to end Tea Cakes suffering. “He steadied himself against the jamb of the door and Janie thought to run into him and grab his arm, but she saw the quick motion of taking aim and heard the click. Saw the ferocious look in his eyes and went mad with fear as she had done in the water that time.
She threw up the barrel of the rifle in frenzied hope and fear. Hope that he’d see it and run, desperate fear for her life. But if Tea Cake could have counted costs he would not have been there with the pistol in his hands. No knowledge of fear nor rifles nor anything else was there. He paid no more attention to the pointing gun than if it were Janie’s dog finer. She saw him stiffen himself all over as he leveled and took aim. The fiend in him must kill and Janie was the only thing living he saw. The pistol and the rifle rang out almost together.
The pistol just enough after the rifle to seem its echo. Tea Cake crumpled as his bullet buried itself in the joist over Janie’s head. Janie saw the look on his face and leaped forward as he crashed forward in her arms. She was trying to hover him as he closed his teeth in the flesh of her forearm. They came down heavily like that. Janie struggled to a sitting position and pried the dead Tea Cake’s teeth from her arm.” (Hurston 184). Death seems impending for both Tea Cake and Janie; one must die for the other to live. And, ironically, it is Tea Cake’s marksmanship training with Janie that saves her.
However, she is not completely out of danger; Tea Cake uses his dying strength to make a second attempt at killing Janie by biting her. This is a bit like Joe, who used his dying breath to curse Janie and wish her death. If Janie did not kill Tea Cake first, he may of killed her. On her own she was able to make this decision with no influence from a man or even her grandma. She was able to rise above the notion of people telling her she could live on her own.
Throughout Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie faced harsh criticism due to her gender. In the period of this time the novel is set in, everyone had set gender roles for each other. Believe it woman belonged in the house, while the men could do anything they wanted to and control the woman.