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Their Eyes Were Watching Her

From the beginning, Janie’s life is filled with judgment that guides her through her life. Maybe slightly unwillingly, but it shapes the way Janie lives her life later on. She is almost as if under constant its watch. The book even starts out with people judging her. There is an unending theme of judgment in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God that extends over Janie’s entire life. Janie is continuously judged by everyone,her grandmother, her husbands, the people on the porch and finally, the judge. All this judgment shapes how she lives her life and how most of the events in her life happen.

Janie is first restricted by her grandmother. While Granny does not exactly judge her directly, it is her view on life that causes her to force Janie into her first marriage.With her harsh history of life, being raped once and seeing her daughter raped, Granny’s finds life rather dark. She believes that if Janie does not get protected, she will get raped too, because every vulnerable women is prone to rape. As she says to Janie, “Neither can you stand alone by yo’self. De thought uh you bein’ kicked around from pillar tuh post is uh hurtin’ thing” (15). Granny comes up with a solution: get married. This little sprout of an idea sends Janie off to Logan, her first husband. But actually getting married was also partly due to Granny’s judgment. She picked that man for Janie and Janie, with the small amount of power she had back then, accepted. In Granny’s mind, Logan was the perfect man for Janie. Her judgment directly affected Janie’s future life, as small of an action it was on her part.

After Janie runs off with Jody, she receives judgment greatly from the porch. The start of the story begins with the people on the porch gossiping about Janie as she walks back to home. They mock her with phrases such as “What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?”(2) or “‘She ain’t even worth talkin’ after,’ [...] ‘She sits high, but she looks low. Dat’s what Ah say ‘bout dese ole women runnin’ after young boys’”(3). They judge everything that passes by and completely chew up everything that they judge. Unfortunately Janie lands in the eyes of these vicious judgers and they try to nitpick at every aspect of Janie’s life just the make her feel miserable. She’s badly dress. Wasn’t she respectable before? She holds herself too high. Aren’t women of this status not supposed to chase after young boys? What did Janie think she could do? Anything she wanted? The people on the porch try to torture Janie, with nothing else to do in their lives as Janie said, “Dem meatskins is got tuh rattle tuh make out they’s alive” (192).

While Janie could not care less about about how the porch judged her, as she much rather be part of the porch, Jody was very sensitive, feeling the need to keep her confined like a proper lady to show his status as the mayor. There was no “laugh and play” (62) as Jody put it. If Janie tried to speak up, Jody would just hit her down.{QUOTE} Janie is now thrown into the spotlight under two merciless arrows of judgment shot at her at the same time and she finally is unable to dodge them. Her actions are refined and she can only act as the “judges” agree. Her life, for the twenty years that she spends with Jody, is filled with confinement and restriction. After Jody dies, the confinement by Jody lifts, but she becomes doubly restricted by the people of the porch as they fill in for Jody and load her down with expectations. {QUOTE} If Janie had come out with no signs of grief, she was bound to be struck by waves of degrading rumors. What was she doing walking around like a flirt? Twenty years of marriage and she shows no signs of grief? She must have married the poor old mayor out of money! So while Janie had her first taste of freedom after twenty years, she was still not completely free.

The arrival of Tea Cake, while gave her more happiness, did not mean the stop of judgment. Before she leaves, there is talk once more by the people of the porch about her dealings with Tea Cake. Tea Cake was in their opinion a bad influence. Even Hezekiah tells her that Tea Cake “ain’t got no business makin’ hissef familiar wid nobody lak you” (103). He obviously has preknown judgmental opinions about Tea Cake and it causes him to try to stop Janie. The porch catches on to this too. Why would someone as respectable as Mrs. Starks interact with him? Immediately, their judgment flares up and they start spreading rumors about her. Eventually, they are not only judging against Tea Cake, they are also judging against Janie. “Tea Cake and Mrs. Mayor Starks! All the men she could get, and fooling with somebody like Tea Cake!” (110). They think it’s absolutely absurd and start insulting Janie. To escape this judgment, Janie leaves with Tea Cake to the Glades. But unfortunately, Judgment continues to follow along.

Janie’s arrival at the Glades meant a new start, but it also meant a new set of eyes to judge her. Maybe it was not as malicious or direct, but she was still judged heavily nonetheless. Tea Cake sadly, is the first to judge her, with the simple mistakes of thinking that she did not want to go out to play with him because she was too respectable. Tea Cake was “skeered. Too skeered Ah might lose yuh” (124) to invite Janie. Maybe this was not purposefully meant on Tea Cake’s part, but he judged her and in his opinion, Janie was stuck up and respectable, too high for lowly him. This causes some slight tension between them but mostly, Janie silently accepts it now, after experience twenty years of judgment’s glare. One of Tea Cake’s biggest fears was to lose his reputation among the others. That meant that he had to have the ideal wife or the others would poke fun at him for marrying such a ridiculous women. This leads to his action of beating her.Tea Cake’s reasoning was “to show that he was boss” (147). But more than that, he actually wanted to “arouse a sort of envy in both men and women” (147). This envy makes Tea Cake feel proud of himself. Maybe Janie was not being directly judged, but she was being indirectly affected by it and judgment still found its way into her life. He brought her along with him to the fields. His reason? He couldn’t stand a day without seeing her. But when Janie comes to the fields, she becomes received by a whole new set of eyes. While she eventually learns to thrive in that community of people, there was no way to avoid the first few moments of suspicious squinting and cold what-are-you-doing-here glares. But the worse of Tea Cake’s actions is his jealousy towards Janie. While his jealousy is not quite prominent during their two years of marriage, though they do have a few fights over it, jealousy shows up most visibly at the end. Even though he wasn’t right in his mind, he still starts judging Janie’s every action and move. A hidden fear from deep down inside him gets revealed and the results are fatal.The end product of his jealousy was death. A death that could have, with a very slim chance, been avoided.

Following Tea Cake’s death, Janie is immediately put on trial. She is very obviously judged. But more than that, Janie wishes to be judged here. She wants the white women to bore her down and for once, she actually directly cares how she’s seen. When Janie’s eyes stray to the white women, she thinks that “it would be nice if she could make them know how it was instead of those menfolks” (185). There is a small connection between her and the white women, and unlike her previous experiences, she wishes to be understood here and not just become another helpless victim of prejudice and lies. But not only is she being judged by the white people, she also had to worry about all of Tea Cake’s friends from the Glades. As Hurston puts it, “so many were there against her that a light slap from each one of them would have beat her to death.” This many people thinking negatively about her was sure to cause some problems and turn the opinions on some of the whites. But while she wishes to be judged here, she doesn’t give in to judgment, refusing to “plead to anybody” (187). She wishes to convince others, but not in the degrading way of pleading. Janie is in her mind a strong and self-supporting women. She refused to bend her knees at judgment and do what the weak did. If she was going to tell everyone her story, she would tell it with bold and strong confidence. She would move them, but Janie was not the pitiful type of person who would plead just yet. Judgment would really have to break her to receive that.

In Janie’s final judgment, she finally breaks free of it’s chains and casts it away. Let them judge her. She had gone through enough torture from judgment in her life to realize that other people’s petty views would not make a change in her life. She had to stand up for herself and not be supported as Granny had tried to convince her of. She had to believe in her own opinions. Other people’s ideas might be arrows, but with the strength, arrows can do no more than glance of the skin. Janie was finally completely free now. Because maybe their eyes were watching her, but God’s eyes were not.

The End

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