In Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God?

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Zora Neale Hurston took part in the empowering movement of the Harlem Renaissance, or the “New Negro Movement” (Locke, 1925), a time characterized by a flourishing African American culture. She is best known for her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which primarily focuses on Janie Crawford, a young woman in search of love, of herself, and her place as a black woman in the South. Hurston’s work remained relatively obscure, until Alice Walker heralded it and elevated it to the ranks of an American classic. Her work though has also the subject of harsh critiques, notably by Richard Wright, who claimed it was not political enough. In fact, it could be argued that Janie remains passive throughout most of the novel, trapped in abusive relationships,…show more content…
Indeed, Janie’s third husband is not hyper-masculine. He is a man who gives Janie the possibility to be herself, thus differentiating himself from the domineering men encountered until this point. Tea Cake is unafraid of venturing beyond the well-trodden path of “acceptable” masculine traits. He includes Janie in the men’s rituals of dominance by teaching her checkers and hunting, by cooking for her, and more importantly by offering her an escape from Eatonville and bringing her to the ’Glades. Nevertheless, even Tea Cake, perceived to be the “kindest” of Janie’s husbands, eventually feels internal pressure to assert his dominance over her, and is led to beat her due to his own insecurity: “Before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her assured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss” (146). Furthermore, Tea Cake’s vices also lead him to steal Janie’s money to feed his gambling problem. Although he pays her back, when he states: "Put dat two hundred back wid de rest, Janie…. Ah no need no assistance tuh help me feed mah woman. From now on, you gointuh eat whutever mah money can buy uh and wear de same. When Ah ain’t got nothin’ you don’t git nothin’” (128), this could be interpreted either as a response to patriarchal pressure to be the provider, or as a romantic, sacrificing gesture that binds the couple together through hard times. Hurston’s writing is willingly ambiguous, and offers many interpretations. Janie, despite the “whipping”, stays with Tea Cake, and as readers, we must forgive him—partly because of her love for him, and perhaps because his flaws stem less from him, and more from the patriarchal world
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