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A Summary of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Throughout the text of Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, the reader learns of the life of the main character, Janie Crawford, through a narrative she gives to her friend, Phoeby Watson. The memories focus on Janie’s marriages to three different men, each marking different key parts of her life. Janie’s grandmother was raped as a slave, giving birth to Janie’s mother; for as much as the former tried to protect the latter, she too was raped, resulting in Janie’s birth. Ultimately, Janie’s mother abandoned her into the care of her now-freed grandmother. Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary

Janie’s first marriage was thrust upon her by her grandmother; she believed her granddaughter needed the stability that a good marriage could provide. Janie believed a marriage should involve love, so her relationship with Logan Killicks left both parties wanting more. Janie ran away from her husband with Joe Starks, a man who marries her for the sake of appearances. Again, Janie is left wanting more from her relationship with her second husband. After Killicks passes away from a kidney disease, Janie prospers from his estate and is finally able to choose for herself a marriage based on love.

She turns town many suitors, ultimately falling in love with Vergible Woods, also known as Tea Cake. While their marriage is marked with good and bad times, it ultimately ends with Janie shooting her husband; he had been bitten by a rabid dog, contracting the disease himself, and threatened Janie’s life. She was put on trial for murder and, despite opposition from Tea Cake’s friends, was found not guilty. She gives her late husband a lavish funeral and soon leaves their homestead, ultimately ending up in Eatonville where she is telling her story to Phoeby.

Hurston’s novels are works of anthropology.  She uses her knowledge of African American culture, beliefs, myths, and dialect to shape the characters in her novels.  Their Eyes Were Watching God includes parallels to her own life, through Janie, as well as the people of Eatonville, Florida.  The novel also addresses issues that many critics of African American literature have overlooked.

Many critics, of this work in particular, have overlooked the theme of body image and its importance in the novel.  Additionally, many critics do not consider how body image is important in African American culture.  While it most commonly addressed in other works of literature, body image does hold importance in Their Eyes Were Watching God.  It gave Jody his power and it gave Janie her sense of self by seeing how others judged her.

Their Eyes Were Watching God addresses issues of importance in African American history and culture. 

  • The portrayal of the woman’s role has its parallels to slavery. 
  • The oral tradition is one that has always been a vital part of the history of African American Culture. 
  • The perception of larger bodies of being more healthy and wealthy is evidenced in Jody’s perceived and earned power and influence over the people of Eatonville. 

Hurston uses this novel as a means of recording the heart of the African American Culture. She uses her own experiences, research, and education to paint a picture of the African American community.  In doing so, she provides an avenue for the African American woman to find her community and her sense of self.

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