Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston

Janie Crawford tells the story of her life and journey via an extended flashback to Pheoby, her best friend, so Pheoby can translate to the ears of the nosy community of Eatonville. Her life is divided roughly into four parts: childhood, and one part devoted to each of three very different marriages.

Janie was a child of rape whose mother was a drunkard, so she grew up with Nanny, her grandmother. She decides early in life that marriage should involve love, but Nanny has other plans: she wants Janie to avoid becoming a 'mule' to 'some man', so she arranges a marriage between Janie and an older farmer named Logan Killicks, much to Janie's dismay.

Logan Killicks, it turns out, wants little to do with a wife in the traditional sense: what he wants is an unpaid houseworker. He attempts to force Janie into hard labor at his farm, but she resists. Finally, with the help of the smooth-talking Joe Starks, she escapes Logan and moves to Eatonville, America's first all-black community.

At Eatonville, the residents lack ambition, and Joe takes advantage of the situation. He buys land, hires some locals to build a store for him to own and run, and has himself appointed mayor. Janie becomes a trophy wife whose primary duty is to run the store and stay out of Joe's busy social calendar. She lives this life numbly until Joe passes away some years later.

When Joe dies, Janie realizes she has suddenly become independently wealthy, and equally suddenly beset on all sides by suitors. She has her choice of many, but her heart decides on a drifter and gambler named Tea Cake, wooed by his harmonica-playing. She sells the store and the two move to Jacksonville and get married -- finally, for love! Their relationship has its ups and downs, but it makes Janie happy.

Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog and contracts rabies, and his madness forces Janie to shoot him. She is put on trial, but is acquitted primarily because she has rich white friends. Tea Cake's friends forgive her after she gives Tea Cake a lavish funeral, and ask her to remain in Jacksonville, but she feels the need to return to Eatonville. She does so, only to find the residents gossiping and nosing about, so she asks Phoeby to tell them her story.

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