Essay, Research Paper: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Literature: Grapes of Wrath

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This paper will tell the reader about all aspects of the numerous problems that
are presented in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. It will deal with all
of the numerous problems that were experienced in the rough time that the book
was written in. Also, it will deal with how these problems are still involved in
today’s society. While many of the problems will never go away, some have
already, and some will go away in hopefully the near future. There were many
problems and issues that Zora Neale Hurston brought up in this novel, and she
did this mostly through the recollection of the main character, Janie Crawford.
While this story deals mainly with Janie’s life from age sixteen to
approximately the age of forty, the novel also deals with the problems that
society faced even before Janie’s birth. The major problem issue that is
involved before Janie’s birth is the fact that the town schoolteacher raped
her mother, Leafy Crawford. When this novel was set, approximately twenty years
after the Civil War, rape was still an important issue in their society. While
rape was probably more common back in those days, less was done about it, and it
was basically just “accepted.” (Baker 134) This is especially true if it is
a white man with a black woman. If it would be a black man with a white woman, a
lot more problems would arise. This is a type of double standard, because it is
not just to allow a horrible action for a certain set of people and disallow it
for another group of people based solely on the color of their skin. The
schoolteacher, a white man, who raped Janie’s mother, a black woman, created
another type of problem that went far beyond the obvious. As a result of the
rape by a white man, Janie had a coffee and cream complexion, and this was
considered a skin tone of great beauty ( This became a
problem with the other girls all through Janie’s life, because of the issue of
jealousy. Even though Janie thought herself as nothing better than any other
black girls, all of the girls feel Janie was just that much better than everyone
else. Everyone else, except Janie, created a superior image of the character
Janie. Janie didn’t even realize she wasn’t white like her childhood friends
until she was six years old and saw a picture of herself. The major problem
created by Janie’s light facade was the fact that all of her friends seemed
out to get her. They seemed overly jealous of her, and no matter what she did,
or how hard she worked for it, they feel she achieved what she did solely
because of her beautiful looks. (Jones 36) Hurston does a good job at portraying
this feeling in the following quote by the people of Eatonville on
Janie:"It was hard to love a woman that always made you feel so
wishful" (111). Another chief problem faced by the people of the time was
the idea of trying to survive the low quality of work available at the time.
People worked as migrant workers, very similar to those in Jon Steinbeck’s The
Grapes of Wrath. People would work tedious jobs for very little pay. People had
to survive. Blacks especially had to do whatever they could to survive. Since
this wasn’t long after the ending of slavery, the overall population of blacks
in the United States still wasn’t very educated. They had to do whatever they
could do for money, whenever they could get it. This wasn’t so obvious in
Janie’s family ways, and after reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, it is
apparent that the times seemed to be getting a little better as the story
progressed. Janie experiences life through many different views throughout the
novel, and all seem to have slightly different problems. First, she experiences
life as a rich, light skinned girl who was always the envy of every other girl
in town. Later, she experiences life as the wife of a potato farmer, then as the
wife of the mayor, and finally as the wife of a migrant worker. While many
people feel envious of Janie’s money and power that she possessed through her
marriage with Logan Killicks the potato farmer, and Joe Starks the Mayor of
Eatonville, people seemed to be more envious than ever when she found what she
was always looking for, in true love, though it was with the poorer migrant
worker Tea Cake. This was said of Tea Cake in the novel: "Janie looked down
on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding
place" (122). The major problems faced it the story Their Eyes Were
Watching God involve the problems that deal with love. These problems include,
but aren’t limited to envy, lust, spouse abuse, and many others. Spouse abuse
was very common at the time this story was written. Similar to the before
mentioned problem of rape, little was done about spouse abuse in those days.
Women were quite often treated like objects, more than they were as human
beings. This is evident when Joe Starks uses Janie as a status symbol more than
as a wife. She does all of the work behind the scenes, and he takes all the
credit. The mules in the story are symbolic of love, and people in a way. How
the owners treated the mules seems to be the way that they treated Janie. (Toile
319) One of the final, but very important problems faced in Their Eyes Were
Watching God is the problem of racism. Racism is one of the biggest problems
that are involved in this story. People are discriminated against continuously
because of the color of their skin. Migrant workers remain migrant workers
because of the fact that they are black. Furthermore, women are senselessly
raped, because they are black. The blacks are growing into “a race of
subhumans and they aren’t but a tad inferior to those whitees (sic).” This
was a quote talking about the rise of black equality in today’s society. It is
footnoted in that text those subhumans referred to the time when black men and
women were consistently degraded. (Toile 77-78) Finally, and probably most
importantly of all, religion is the biggest problem presented with this story.
(Jones 153) The following quote shows the point in the novel where Hurston took
the title of her book:"They sat in company with the others in other
shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He
meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the
dark, but their eyes were watching God" (151). This was spoken when a huge
hurricane was expected. This along with several other passages from the novel,
such as the following quote spoken by Janie to Pheoby: "It's uh known fact,
Pheoby, you got tuh go there tuh know there…. Two things everybody's got tuh
do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about
livin' fuh theyselves (sic)" (183) show that religion was a big problem of
the time. It is felt that everyone had not only the right, but also the
responsibility to find their God and to worship him if they wanted a chance at
survival. Many of those problems that were apparent in Their Eyes Were Watching
God are still apparent today. Some of the problems have been corrected. Some of
the problems have escalated. A few of the problems remain the same today as they
did 65 years ago, and will probably remain the same for many future generations.
The Doctor’s Home Journal states that a problem is defined as a cul-de-sac
situation with little hope for the future Although the major problems that were
associated into Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God still exist today, at
least in part, if not in whole, many people feel that racism has been totally
eliminated from modern society. I, after doing some research, and from viewing
with my own two eyes, believe that it is still present. We have not just
forgotten about racism, but we have spread it out. (Lansing 25) We, as a society
in general seem to be prejudiced to all races whether it is good or bad.
Regardless of race or origin, most people have heard, or even said at least one
of the following statements at some time during their life: “All black people
are extremely talented at athletics,” “All Native Americans are bad people
who only want to hunt and kill on other’s land,” “White Power,” “All
Spanish speaking people are illegal aliens and should be sent back to wherever
they came from,” “All Italian people are Wop Dagos,” “White trailer park
trash,” and also the common “Nigger” (Stalin 177). The list of racial
slurs that we use as a country should provide plenty of proof that we as a
society in general still seem racist. Envy is another huge problem that still
exists today. People seem to be jealous of the most minor things today, which
lack great importance. That is the way envy has always been, but today this
seems to be magnified greatly. ( If someone gets a promotion, people
feel that person wasn’t as deserving as him were. Whenever someone gets to a
position of power, people feel that they got there by brown-nosing, and by also
stepping on people to get there. I believe that we live in a very cynical
society, and nobody can believe that people have actually used hard work to get
where they are, or where they are headed. Similar to the early 20th century when
Their Eyes Were Watching God was written, people feel that a beautiful person
can have everything that he wants handed to him on a silver platter. (Toile 11)
I believe that one problem that faced society during the early 20th century that
isn’t so much of an issue nowadays is the adversity involved with religion. I
feel that today any religion is accepted by most. Also, I feel that even an
atheist can survive without being discriminated against in this day and age.
Religion is still an important part of many people’s lives, but it is not
viewed as a necessity by many people who have either given up religion, or who
have chosen to try to alter their own religion. Religion is currently one of the
most debated items, which still makes it a problem between Church and
scientists. According to Roe Stalin: “There is an ongoing debate on faith
versus facts, which is currently being debated over and over Love is a problem
for the characters in Their Eyes Were Watching God, in particular Janie, and I
feel that there will always be problems associated with love. Rape and spouse
abuse can both almost be classified under the category of love. Rape is becoming
very popular as of late because of several new date rape drugs. Statistics say
that for every illegal date rape drug that there is an equally dangerous legal
drug. Spouse abuse is at an all time high for some reason, too (Franz 99);
perhaps this is due to the large amount of violence and spouse abuse presented
on television. Our society is getting to the point that we really don’t accept
either anymore, and we are trying to stop both by outlawing them, and by having
help lines for people who feel that they have been subjected to either of these.
In the future, these problems may be nearly gone, but love has other problems
involved with it too. Today and forever those problems will include many
problems such as heartbreak, anxiety, depression, and many other associated
problems. Finally, another problem that the characters faced in Their Eyes Were
Watching God that they would still experience in modern day society is the
problem of death. Janie searches for love through most of the story. Most of the
time when Janie is in love, she has to deal with the death of that person, such
as she does when her Nanny dies. In the present day, death is still part of
life. Death is inescapable, and everybody someday will have to face death. This
is a problem that won’t go away and there is no cure for. Love will outdo
death, but then there are and always will be the hardships with love. Franz says
that “...within two months of the death of a loved on, the risk for suicide
among family members nearly triples.” So, in conclusion, the characters of
Their Eyes Were Watching God experienced numerous problems in their day to day
life. A lot of these problems are still in existence today, whether it is in a
greater, equal, or lesser sense. Some problems are unavoidable and will always
be here in society, no matter how much society changes.
Baker, Wally. (1993). 1900-1950. NY: Scholastic. Franz, Belle. (1999).
Doctor’s Home Journal vol. 2. San Francisco: Medical Journals. Hurston, Zora
Neale. (1999)Their Eyes Were Watching God reprinted w/ permission in NY by
Scholastic Publishing. Jones, Adam. (1987). Adjusting Through New Times.
Augusta, Maine: Bonre Books. Lansing, Frederick J. (1998). Hurston’s
Metaphors. Los Angeles: Broderick Publishing. Stalin, Roe. (1990). Generation
Differences. NY: Educational Press. Toile, Wendy. (1982). Stories of the Blacks.
Seattle: Blackbrook Publishing. “Where can I find info about
Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God?”
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