Janie Mae Crawford

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) is a literary masterpiece written by the African American anthropologist and folklorist Zora Neale Huston. In this novel, Hurston tells the story of a black woman called Janie Mae Crawford. From the beginning of her childhood, Janie shows a strong personality and ability of self-expression. Although this novel is highly criticized by African American male writers such as Richard Wright, it is considered as one of Hurston’s most influential works. Janie shows internal as well as external conflicts throughout her journey. Those conflicts contribute to her identity and individuality attainment. For this reason, this chapter analyzes the psychological journey she goes through. Accordingly, the psychoanalytical theory is applied to manifest the identity and the individuality of Janie.

  1. Plot Summary of Their Eyes Were Watching God

In her novel, Hurston depicts the life of a mulatto little girl called Janie Mae Crawford. Janie is the daughter of a black woman called Leafy who is raped by her school teacher. Leafy is a girl of a slaved mother who is raped by her white master too. Janie never sees her mother because she escaped after she gave birth. Janie, the protagonist of the novel, is raised by her Nanny in a white house where she works as a maid. The novel opens with Janie telling her story to her friend Pheoby Watson after her return to Eatonville. As Hurston writes about a woman self- determination and self- achievement, Janie starts her journey with her Nanny’s decision to arrange her marriage to Logan Killicks who is an old man with properties to secure her. In her search for love and life, Janie runs away with Joe Starks who seeks to control her and treats her like a possession. After twenty years, Joe dies and Janie finally meets her true love “Tea Cake Woods”. Although Tea Cake is a twelve years younger than her, they marry and live together for a year and a half. Unfortunately, Janie struggles a fateful decision. Tea Cake goes mad because of a bite of a rabid dog during the hurricane. During one of his epileptic seizures, she forcibly shoots him to protect herself. After her trial, Janie is announced not guilty. She comes back to Eatonville with gratefulness to Tea Cake for making her testing the true unconditioned love which she requested her entire life.

  1. Janie’s Search for Identity

Since its emergence, African American literature serves as a fulfillment of an urgent need to affirm the black identity. The circumstances that surrounded the life of African Americans as a subjugated minority in America and the white supremacy they were exposed to create a crisis of identity within the black community. The identity crisis compels black writers to introduce the theme of identity as a central issue in their works. Hurston's novel,Their Eyes Were Watching Godis recognized as a best example picturing the identity crisis within the African American literary tradition. The novel centers on the depiction of an evolving character of an ambitious woman named “Janie”. The heroine is presented through the novel in a journey of self-realization despite the fact of the severe social conditions. Although “Janie” is raised in a patriarchal society, she from the beginning of her life shows a resistance to the values inherited by the society and decides to follow her desires.

The self-dependence that the protagonist has achieved is due to her perseverance toward stability. The strength the protagonist acquires at the end of her psychological journey is indeed the result of three marital experiences. Socially speaking, these three marriages are an utter failure except the last one which witnesses warmness and love; however, “Janie” manages to make a sense of self-realization. She is able to get rid of social boundaries that value female reliance on man. The journey of self-construction articulates a progressive awareness of the hero decision making. The desire for true love pulls “Janie” to challenge the taboo and exceed the red lines of the society searching for her identity. In fact, she demonstrates the ability to listen to her inner voice and wins the battle against the internal conflicts she lives through her journey. In the end, Janie is a strong self-autonomous woman who is able to face her community after a twenty-year journey of self-exploration.

2.1. Nanny's Character Impact on Janie's Self-Maturity

Janie’s mother escaped after she gave birth to her. The mother was raped by her teacher. She gave birth and fled leaving her baby to her mother “Nanny”. Janie’s first experience with the fact that she is the fruit of racially mixed race shows her self-realization at the age of six when she discovered her blackness in the picture as it is told in the novel: “Aw, aw! Ah'm colored!”1. In their article “A Quest for Identity in Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zahra MahdianFard and BahmanZarrinjooee comment on the moment of Janie's recognition of her blackness:

What is highly significant about this statement is that it reveals a great deal about Janie’s character. Words such as “me”and “Ah” which have been repeated three times in a short sentence show that she is extremely in favor of her own identity as a Black girl. Immediately after that short sentence she uses the word “colored” which introduces her as a black female. This sense of knowing her own self and announcing it in a clear way continues as the narrative focuses on Janie’s experiences.2