Feminism In Their Eyes Were Watching God

1959 Words8 Pages
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…
How can a character who chooses to stay in an abusive relationship be considered feminist? I argue that it is through her painful first and second marriages that she grows more complex, and her identity is progressively shaped to reflect a maturing, empowered woman. Logan and Jody echo patriarchal 20th century notions of gender, relating to the virtues of domesticity and labor: women as the embodiment of the “angels in the house”, as well as subservient creatures pandering to their husband’s desires and needs. When Jodie declares, “Ah never married her for nothin’ like dat [speech-making]. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home” (43), Hurston is faithfully reflecting the times during which the novel is set, and the mindsets Janie must constantly struggle against. When he openly insults her, Janie finally unshackles herself from Jody’s “gag order” for her to remain silent in the community, by reminding him of his age, causing a fatal blow to his male ego. On his death bed, Janie confronts Jodie: “You wouldn’t listen. You done lived wid me for twenty years and you don’t half know me atall. And you could have but you was so busy worshippin’ de works of yo’ own hands, and cuffin’ folks around in their minds till you didn’t see uh whole heap uh things yuh could have" (86). Here, Janie dismantles Joe’s character: a self-serving man, who…show more content…
In turn, Janie’s story inspires other women, notably Phoeby Watson, who acts as a mirror for the reader. She is the vehicle through which Janie’s story is told, and the friendship between the two women rises above the petty talk of the town, the porch, and the community, in a true instance of “sisterhood”. Phoeby acts as Janie’s defendant, arguably more so than any of the men combined. She notes her friend’s agency and self-authority, “Still and all, she’s her own woman. She oughta know by now whut she wants tuh do” (11), and by the end of the novel, one woman’s personal narrative manages to uplift another: “Ah done growed ten feet higher from jus’ listenin’ tuh you, Janie. Ah ain’t satisfied wid mahself no mo’” (192). If Phoeby reflects Hurston’s readers, then as readers we also benefit from this empowerment. Hurston’s female characters achieve emancipation and self-love, through what they offer each other, rather than through what men begrudgingly
Open Document