Their Eyes Were Watching God by Hurston (1937)

Hurston (1937) examines the persona of Janie Crawford, a stunning adolescent of mixed white and black ancestry, in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The story traces her development from a young woman into a woman as she searches for and seeks love. Janie, who has long hair and light skin, aspires to live a comfortable existence. She ultimately realizes, though, that she must work alone to accomplish her aims and objectives. Janie frequently suffers from gossip in the black town of Eatonville, Florida, due to her mixed-race features. The author is successful in depicting the various perspectives on beauty from both African American and white settings. Standards of African American Beauty

Hurston's content introduces the complex issues surrounding beauty, especially among the African American community. To be precise, the views of African Americans on how beauty should be are contrary to those held by whites. Their belief is that their standards of beauty are below those of whites. Thus, there exists a prejudicial fallout regarding issues such as facial features, hair, and skin color. Beautiful black women are profoundly affected by this prejudice, thereby being sidelined by the rest of the community (Hurston 5). To be precise, being more beautiful than the other people can quickly create huge rifts. This aspect is well-portrayed by how the African American community treats Janie, considering her light skin and beautiful hair. For being a half-caste, Janie struggles to fit in a society that views her as an outsider.

Janie's Light skin and Long Hair

African Americans portray an uneasy coexistence with whites' beauty due to their traditional African features. This aspect influences the way Huston presents Janie in the different areas she resides in throughout her role. Beauty is seen as an aspect that can influence a woman's commitment to her marriage. For example, Joe denies her freedom, fearing that she can attract other men in the society. Beauty is thus viewed as an element that can influence women's loyalty. Just because of her skin color and type of hair, Janie endures lots of judgments from her neighbors. As beautiful as she is, Janie is viewed by the black community as an unsuitable person for them. This aspect explains why she endures numerous challenges in her life since most people, especially men feel unworthy of having a woman who portrays numerous physical features that are attributed to whites. As the women gossip Janie, they talk about how her skin is not covered properly (Ho 270). To some extent, they mention a satin dress that she could wear to avoid showing off too much skin. In this case, the author creates the impression that beauty is not supposed to be exposed by African Americans. Also, the gossiping women are displeased with Janie's swinging hair. For the women, only young girls can have the opportunity to swing their hair.

Janie's hair and skin color seem to irritate many of the black women whose features are different from hers. To some extent, the porch gossips create the impression that Janie is not suitable for marriage, especially to African American men. The women suggest that Joe should have married another girl who has no hair like Janie. The subject issue is that her different physical features are seen as inappropriate for the African setup, hence the need for her to seek the company of white men. Janie experiences high resentment because she fails to fit in an easily identifiable social class. All these complications arise due to the extreme beauty she portrays that other black women do not have. In this case, being different is presented by Hurston as a divisive factor. The other women view Janie's hair and skin as inappropriate for her age because she was widowed (Hurston 7). The African American society stands out as one that associates women with unattractive practices to please the neighbor's desires and expectations. Thus, her hair and color place her in a unique level that does not fit either in the black or white sections of the community. The beauty also leads to her being associated with immoral activities due to jealousy from the other black women.

How the Community Reacts

The community showcases unique reactions in regards to the character of Janie. There is an evident rift between white and blacks, hence creating a high focus on their views of each other. The subject reaction is portrayed by how different people view Janie's interaction with men from both white and black races. Mrs. Turner stands out as a mixed-race woman who shares similar features with Janie (Wiener 48). She is uncomfortable with Janie's idea of marrying Tea Cake because he is a black man. Mrs. Turner represents the section of the community that values the white race while ignoring the blacks. She goes to the extent of associating the white race with beauty, while African Americans are linked with ugliness. This misconception creates associations where a section of the community avoids being affiliated with African Americans (Ho 270). Even though being affiliated with both white and black races, Janie is portrayed as a woman who can only fit on one side. Janie's role in the novel helps unearth the high racism being practiced in the society.

Although Mrs. Turner does not seek close interactions with Janie, all she needs is her to be associated with whites, rather than the other African Americans. To her, those with white attributes deserve better opportunities in life, unlike their black counterparts. Hurston's ideas bring forth Mrs. Turners wish to suffer under a white rule because of her blackness. Her concept of distancing Janie from black men creates the impression that she seeks to subject her to the authority of the white masters. Being a black person appears to be a misfortune that attracts unmeasurable struggles. As a result, Mrs. Turner is a perfect example of the individuals whose interests and aspirations are channeled towards the white's authority, even if they are oppressing in nature.

Through Nanny's character, Hurston paints the picture of a black community that does not value itself. Janie's beauty pushes her grandmother to select for her the most appropriate suitor. On one occasion, she refers to Taylor as a trashy black man, who can use Janie's body to wipe his feet. Such a demeaning argument creates the impression that having both white and black attributes made love life, not only difficult but also complicated for Janie. Social status is portrayed as one way of determining an individual's integrity and value (Hurston 10). To be precise, the entire black community holds the opinion that Janie deserves a better life than them because of her beauty.

Nanny believes that Janie deserves to be at the middle-class level that is occupied by whites since she is different from her black community. She suggests a suitable man for Janie because she understands the struggles that women with black traits can come across. However, Janie disliked her grandmother because they did not share similar life ideologies. On the contrary, Janie was interested in achieving her freedom rather than being subjected to racial interests. Nanny's deception on Janie was aimed at linking her with a wealthy man in pursuit of a stable life. In this case, she subjects her granddaughter to a biased system that devalues African Americans while granting great recognition to whites.

The societal reaction is well-portrayed by the women who gossiped Janie regularly. It is indicated that Janie should have stayed in her class, instead of trying to seek love from African American men. In this context, her class comprises of whites, hence the need for her to stick there instead of seeking refuge among other blacks. As portrayed by Hurston, the society is against the coming together of both whites and blacks. Janie is utilized as a single character full physical appearance depicts the social and economic differences that seem challenging to eliminate (Ho 271). All the differences existing between the white and black races are put into light by Janie's physical appearance and her quest for love. Hurston correctly manages to show how the entire society is flawed by racism, with blacks appearing disadvantaged compared to their counterparts.

Janie's Men's reaction

Logan Killicks

The issue of beauty showcases unique responses from all the men Janie marries. Her beauty influences different reactions based on each man's personality and behaviors. As Janie's first husband, Logan is an old man who has lots of weaknesses. Despite being wealthy, he is unable to show adequate affection to his wife (Wiener 56). Apart from being ugly, Janie also views him as an insult to her vision of true love. Logan is unable to love Janie entirely due to the age gap, as well as the great beauty she holds (Hurston 22). Logan's little affection fails to meet Janie's needs, thereby creating problems in their marriage.

Due to the age factor, he opts to become commanding to restrict his young wife's freedoms. However, anger and frustrations set in once Janie becomes resistance to his commands To Logan, a beautiful woman like Janie requires a tough man for her to be well-behaved. In one scenario, he compares Janie with his first wife who could chop wood on her own unlike Janie's calls for assistance. Logan's idea of marriage is one that is founded on dominating a woman, especially a beautiful one like Janie. The misunderstanding between these partners creates a situation where Logan feels unappreciated and unrecognized by his wife. Logan's failure to handle his wife properly results in her eloping with another man with whom she hopes to find perfect love.

Joe Starks

Hurston presents Joe as Janie's second husband who is filled with jealousy and high self-esteem. Having a beautiful mixed-race wife is not an easy task as earlier portrayed by Logan. Thus, Joe ends up representing a high jealousy over his wife, since she can easily attract other men. The jealousy aspect is highly influenced by his superiority complex that is also held by the rest of the community. The belief is that Janie can only be comfortable if married to a white man, unlike the African American men who view themselves as ugly. Just like Logan, Joe has upheld his manliness to protect his ego from being hurt. He believes that he can control Janie because he is her husband. Janie's second marriage is an explicit portrayal of how a woman's beauty can be a significant threat to men (Ho 272). The controlling character of Joe paints him as a slave master who utilizes his position to get what he wants in any instance. Joe's reaction towards Janie is the worst of all. His behavior creates the impression that women are like objects that can be ordered around by their husbands.

Despite his weaknesses, he values his wife as a rare, beautiful woman that not many African American men can afford to marry. However, the adverse effects of his controlling behavior are extreme, hence influencing Janie to develop second thoughts regarding their union. In this case, Joe's mistake is to treat Janie as a possession rather than a wife who he dearly loves. From his standpoint, Janie has no voice, intelligence, and autonomy simply because she is a woman (Wiener 67). Thus, Joe introduces the African American ideology that men have to dominate their wives, even in the most unnecessary situations. The poor treatment that Janie gets from him ends on his deathbed when she speaks out all his unethical practices to him.

Tea Cake

As the youngest of all men, Vergible Woods appears to be a better husband. Janie loves him more than the others, even though he is several years younger than her. Also known as Tea Cake, Woods embraces a carefree attitude that does not demean Janie. For example, she learns checkers from him, hence portraying him as a loving man who is not afraid of an empowered and beautiful woman. The fact that he treats her as an equal makes her feel more loved than in her past marriages (Wiener 72). Tea Cake reacts appropriately by allowing his wife the freedom she needs, hence heightening their love affair.

Tea Cake avoids stifling Janie's nature by encouraging her to try new things in her life. Apart from checkers, he also teaches her how to hunt, thereby strengthening their bond. Despite the high love connection, Tea Cake is almost killed by a hurricane. After being bitten by a dog, he gets rabies, an outcome that threatens their marriage. At the end of their marriage, Janie opts to kill Tea Cake since his predicaments were beyond control (Ho 273). Thus, Tea Cake stands out as the only man who goes against the African American ideologies advocating for male dominance in the society. This character made it easy for him to keep Janie without any fears compared to his predecessors.

Janie's View

Apart from the society and all the people in her life, Janie is the only person who understands her life well. She does not view herself as privileged due to her white and black features. All she needs is to fit in a society that accommodates her fully without any hindrances. For example, she hates Nanny for advising her to marry a wealthy man. Janie views herself as an empowered and independent woman who does not need to get married to survive. Janie recognizes her beauty, and she focuses on finding her real love one day. Thus, she ends up marrying several men due to societal pressures until she finds her true love Tea Cake.

Janie values herself to the extent of fighting oppression and intimidation from men. She believes that being a woman does not make one an object that can be used anyhow by men. With this idea in mind, Janie leaves her first two marriages in search of a man who could love her without any conditions (Hurston 35). Despite having different racial aspects, she chooses to stick with her family because her conception occurred after her mother got raped. Although she has traces of the white race, she opts to stick with the poor African Americans hoping to overcome poverty one day. On a different note, Janie is not a proud woman despite her being a half-caste. All she concentrates on is finding ways to empower herself without having to try on anyone. Her only challenge is that being a mixed-race woman makes it difficult for either of the societies to accommodate her. This controversy stems up from racism, hence making it impossible for people to coexist peacefully with each other.

White and African American Standards of Female Beauty

The standards of female beauty vary widely among African Americans and whites. The difference emanates from the traditional and ideological elements held by each side. Hurston's writing presents whites as the only people that accommodate female beauty without complication. To them, women can show off their skin and hair without any problems. This aspect is well-portrayed by Janie's grandmother and other women who aspire to introduce her to a setup where she does not live a life filled with day to day struggles. The case is entirely different in the African American community since the people distance themselves from female beauty. African American women air out their concerns regarding Janie's open air and body (Hurston 55). They suggest that she ought to have her body well-covered since it is the right behavior, according to their traditions.

Female beauty is also viewed as a tool that women can utilize to mislead and misuse men. For example, Janie is despised and associated with bad practices, especially after marrying Logan, who is way older than her. Based on the narrator's sentiments, the different views revolving around female beauty are facilitated by racism. For instance, Janie is viewed as a privileged woman due to her mixed-race. Thus, even her grandmother wants her to live happily by marrying a wealthy man instead of falling in love with poor ones (Ho 274). Her character creates the impression that the author's ideas were aimed at unearthing numerous weaknesses in the African American society. Various life choices in Hurston's book are made based on race, and the other distinguishing factor is gender. In this case, societal differences explain why Janie had to experience many challenges in her life.


Since historical periods, African Americans have portrayed significant differences with whites. Hurston introduces a unique issue, which is the female beauty. With Janie being the main character, the author highlights the position of a woman of mixed races. African Americans push Janie to marry wealthy men because her beauty is unsuitable for ordinary men. However, this advice ends up complicating her life since Logan and Joe fail to love her accordingly. The issue of female beauty remains controversial even in marriage since her two first husbands seek to dominate her life to keep other men at bay. Janie's mixed-race is utilized by the author to prove that despite the two races' differences, God can indeed mend all the rifts. As such, all the differences between whites and African Americans should be eliminated for both parties to coexist peacefully with each other.

Works Cited

Ho, Wen-Ching. "Hurston's Janie Woods and the Ending of Their Eyes Were Watching God." The Explicator 73.4 (2015): 270-274.

Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Print.

Wiener, Gary. Women's Issues in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2012. Print.

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