Synopsis of ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is a female bildungsroman and it is a polyphonic novel of personal development in which the protagonist, Janie searches for an authentic identity, a quest for romance and in turn achieving self fulfillment and voice. Throughout the novel, Hurston highlights different themes through poetic dialect such as love, racism and gender inequality.
The plot is structured into Janie’s four relationships with Nanny, Logan Killicks, Joe Starks and Tea Cake where each relationship contributes to the journey motif by symbolizing different stages of her journey. Janie’s story all began in Nanny’s backyard as a flashback to where she observes ‘a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom. ’ This vision not only leads to a sexual awakening, orgasmic experience to her but rather became a metaphorical representation of her voice and vision of love throughout her life.
Bearing in mind that this was presently Janie’s philosophy of ‘a marriage’, she eventually sees Johnny Taylor and kisses him. This innocent act immediately caught Nanny’s attention which tempted her to marry off Janie to Logan Killicks, an elderly man, since he could have provided the financial support and protection that Nanny thought was best for her. However, marrying Killicks was depressing since he desecrated the pear tree. She was oppressed and forced into doing hard labour.
Soon, her passionate and undying love made her forsake Logan and she went on for the ambitious, Joe Starks. He promised to her the emotional security that she sought, prestige and most of all property so she migrated with him to the newfound, all-black city of Eatonville. Soon, she realizes that his promises were not kept and she was merely a possession. He wanted to ‘be a big ruler of things with her reaping the benefits,’ and also he was someone who ‘spoke for change and chance. Using free indirect discourse, Hurston shows Janie as becoming conscious and aware of Joe’s abusive and controlling attitude towards her. Furthermore, the use of the metaphor of ‘inside and out’ was highlighted to give Janie the courage and strength to withstand Joe’s constant control. After his death, Janie finally has the opportunity of finding her voice which actually represents her freedom and therefore making it possible for her to genuinely love someone that represented the pear-blossom tree.
She eventually inherited the store where she worked for several months and was finally free from the oppression she had to endure. Janie now attempts to find true love. She then meets Tea Cake who was her symbolic pear tree and treated her with all the respect and reassurance she deserved. They marry and move to the Everglades where they sort happiness working on the fields and mingling with the migrant workers. Unfortunately, a hurricane strikes and destroys their community and while fleeing the storm, Tea Cake saves Janie from being attacked by a wild dog, but is himself bitten.
Weeks later, Janie discovers that Tea Cake is diagnosed with rabies, which sent him into a state of delirium. In this state, he tries to shoot Janie but he himself was killed by her while trying to protect herself. After Tea Cake’s funeral, Janie returns to Eatonville, the final stage of her journey. While she is now back at the place where she faced oppression and was merely a possession, she was grateful and contented that she finally found her true self and gained her voice as well as had the opportunity to experience ‘her pear tree love. ’