Gender Role Reversal Situation
n the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston opens her book with a gender role reversal situation. She talks about how men watch the horizon, and the ships of dreams, but they never chase them, while women go after their dreams. Above all, Janie Stark is a strong female character who develops greatly throughout the novel. She is presented with obstacles which she uses to grow and lead her to find her natural self. Over the course of three marriages she finds her voice, her horizons and her confidence.
This story has taken place during the early 1900s which was a time where women had limited to no rights. Women were seen to have a place at home where they could stay and raise children. At the time married women were especially discriminated against,many states made it illegal or frowned upon these women getting jobs.These were a few of many cultural norms set at this time.
Throughout her marriages each had obstacles that were paths to Janie finding her natural self. Janie was married off at the young age of 16 to an older man, Logan Killicks. Killicks spoiled Janie for about one year before forcing her to help with farm work. Overtime Janie felt used and unloved, and runs away with a man named Jody Stark. When Janie ran away with Jody, she felt empowered as this was the first time she got the chance to take charge of her own life. Jody is Janie’s second husband who treats her like a possession. He doesn’t allow her to speak, especially in crowds. When the crowd of people wanted to hear what she had to say, Jody simply responded that Janie was just a woman. Jody confides her in the store and makes her cover up and stay quiet in public. Jody forces Janie to wear a head rag when she is in the store, which represents restrictions imposed on subjugated women by men in power. Years later Jody dies leaving Janie widowed yet relieved. She later enters her third marriage with a younger man, Tea Cake. Running off with a man who has no wealth or power was another way she showed that she wouldn’t allow the cultural norms control her life. He treated her like an equal and encouraged her to try new things. In this marriage Janie is able to grow into the natural woman she always wanted to be. She wanted to be able to make her own decisions and speak her own opinion. In each marriage Janie finds a new opportunity to take control of her own life. Her awakening as a woman and triumphing over the men who tried to silence her voice show the inequality between males and females and how Janie overcame them.
The horizons symbolize the distant aspects of the natural world, which Janie wants to be in. Throughout her marriages Janie makes progress to reach her goal and be at one with herself. She constantly blames Nanny for taking away her horizons and making her marry Logan. By the end of the story Janie has been to the horizon and back showing that she has accepted her natural self.
Gender roles play a big part in the unraveling of this story. Gender roles were set in this time by the cultural norms. Janie has many times ignored these roles no matter what the opinions or consequences were. A gender role that appeared was this idea that relationships between men and women had to have the man empowered while the woman was disempowered. The woman in the relationship was not allowed to stick up for herself or allowed to do anything without her husband’s permission. Janie did whatever she could to overthrow these norms. While the consequences and rumors did not make her look good she did not care because she knew she was using it to reach her goal. Women were expected to be obedient, silent and proper. Janie wasn’t any of these most of the time. She ran away with a new man from her first husband, never let a man stop her from stating her opinion, and dressed how she pleased even if someone had something to say about it. Throughout their marriage Jody looks at Janie as an ornament that bolsters his social standing.We watch Janie lose parts of herself under the forces of male domination. Losing her voice, her freedom, and her horizons. In this culture society wanted to see strong men and obedient women which led to women being treated as property,inferior and unequal. Janie Stark has overthrown cultural norms in many ways. There have been major events and minor events all of which have gotten her negative consequences. Janie has deviated from the role of a southern woman. She wears her hair down in a long braid as well as dresses in overalls. The way she dresses has caused her to get some unfavorable opinions from her neighbors. In the town there was a man who owned a mule that was too weak and small to do any farm work. Jody buys this mule from the man, but the mule soon dies. Everyone enjoys the funeral celebration except for Janie. Jody orders his wife to stay at the store because he thought it wouldn’t be proper for the mayor’s wife to be at this kind of event. Janie shows resentment but knows she can not let Jody know because he will treat her even worse behind closed doors.She is afraid because one time in the car on their way home when no one was around he lashed out and fiercely hit Janie, due to the fact she disrespected him in front of the towns people.
Janie’s literal voice and ability to speak represent her freedom and empowerment as a woman. With Logan and Jody her voice is suppressed, but with Tea Cake she is able to speak
and share her opinions. Something that many people would have seen as disobedient and inappropriate. Throughout the story Janie has overcome many obstacles and learned many lessons. Janie developed into a strong female character in this novel. After her three marriages she realizes that the only time she found pure happiness was when she had no husband at all. At this time she has regained her freedom and her horizons. She was able to speak her mind and make her own decisions in her life and live with the consequences.