About the Book

Book Protagonist: Janie Crawford
Publication Date: 1937
Genre: Coming of Age, Historical Fiction

Character List

Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ takes a more direct and introspective approach for her main characters, like Janie Crawford - who stands up against marital male dominance and control, as she searches for true love and respect across three marriages.

Zora Neale Hurston’s characters in the story ‘Their Eyes Were Watching Godportray the peculiarities of a typical slave narrative or the cultural zeitgeist of such times predominantly. For this reason, the characters are mainly shown as vivid and blunt, markedly dramatic, daydreaming, and reasonably violent and coercive. This article will analyze Zora Neale Hurston’s major characters in her book ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Janie Crawford

She is the main act of Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’ The author describes her as black and beautiful – slightly light-skinned – and has unusually beautiful long hair, which all the more adds to her overall glamorous physical appearance. Having missed the privilege of motherly love and affection following abandonment by her birth mother, Janie is raised instead by her grandmother Nanny Crawford – who loves her and does everything possible to protect her. 

When Janie comes of age, Nanny hands her over in marriage to the older Logan Killicks, a farmer – who treats Janie with so much control and restrictions. Unlike the normal trends for women of her society, who typically only serve as housewives and have no aspirations, Janie is different and is determined to pursue her passions. Such drive leads her across three marriages as she searches for a companion who will love and support her dreams, not control her. 

In the end, Janie finds the satisfaction and peace of mind That she craves – more remarkably with her time with Tea Cake, but this comes at the price of being alone and losing nearly all the wealth she’s amassed over twenty-plus years.

Leafy Crawford

She is the biological mother of Janie and the daughter of Nanny. Like her mother, Leafy has quite a harrowing experience characterized by slavery, gender bias, and abuse – and the result of these devastates her life so badly that she becomes an alcoholic. She gives birth to Janie after she is tragically rapped by her school teacher. She runs away afterward – abandoning her baby for her Nanny, her mother.


Nanny Crawford is Janie’s grandmother and mother to Leafy Crawford. Nanny is probably one of the most suffered characters in Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’ Enduring the full torture of the slave era, Nanny faces constant sexual abuse under the roof of her slaver with Jamie’s mother Leafy being one of the results of such dehumanization. After facing death threats from her master’s concubine, Nanny flees with Leafy until the end of the war. 

Seeing what happened to her daughter Leafy, Naany is determined to not same happen to Janie, so she becomes particularly protective and intentional with Janie, and part of that also includes marrying her off to Logan Killicks, whom she values as a man who can fully protect and cater for Janie.

The Washburns

Is a white family that Janie’s grandmother Nanny, works for as a maid and helper. The Washburns are uncharacteristically good and kind to black people and don’t only treat Nanny as their kind, but also accept, love, and take care of Janie as though she is their daughter. Hurston uses the Washburns to set a standard of what a true white family should be, as there aren’t so many families with such nobility and integrity.

Phoeby Watson

She is a true friend of Janie and is the one Janie tells her story about upon returning home to Eatonville after being away for a very long time. Being married and having a tumultuous marital life, Phoeby finds herself consumed by the demands of her marriage and lives like the average woman – forgoing and sacrificing her dreams. She is inspired by Janie’s courageous story in the end and even hints at allowing herself to explore life beyond the four walls of her marriage. 

Johnny Taylor

Johnny Taylor becomes the first guy that Janie has a romantic spark with – and st the heat of it, she eventually kisses him. Because Johnny is young, naive, and poor, Naany doesn’t support her granddaughter seeing him, so she instead arranges for a much older, much more experienced, and well-to-do suitor to marry Janie.

Logan Killicks 

Potato farmer and first husband of Janie, who, contrary to Nanny’s expectation, is not quite capable of caring for Janie the way that she wants. Killicks is domineering and possessive and epitomize the mentality of typical men of his generation. I’m the end, he is unable to keep Janie – who wants more freedom, and more adventure in life – and loses her to Joe Starks. 

Joe Starks 

Ambitious and cute, Joe Starks, or Jody, becomes the second husband of Janie, literally stealing her away from the arms of Logan Killicks and then running off to Eatonville to marry and settle. Janie admires Jody’s go-getting spirit, and he is still lacking in the aspect of allowing her freedom to pursue her own dreams and passions. Their marriage spans two decades, with Jody achieving a lot in business and in politics – having won the office of the town mayor. A misunderstanding resulted in Jody beating Janie, prompting her to run away from home, only returning when Jody is sick and about to die.

Tea Cake

Also known as Vergible Woods, Tea Cake embodies nearly all the vital qualities that Janie seeks in a man – particularly, the most important one is the freedom to be herself and pursue her passion. Less than a year after Jody’s illness and death, Tea Cake catches the eye of Janie, and even though he is a lot younger than she is, the two kick it off very quickly. Janie sells her business assets (Jody’s legacy) and moves to Everglades with Tea Cake, leaving Eatonville for good. 

The two have the most fulfilling marriage, but a dangerous hurricane disrupts Everglades – leading to an unfortunate event and Tea Cake getting bitten by a sick dog. He falls sick and grows suspicious of Janie, but when he resorts to using firearms for resolution, Janie kills him in self-defense. 

Hezekiah Potts 

In Eatonville, Potts is the storekeeper of Jody and Janie’s business. He is loyal and trustworthy and thinks and talks like Jody, sometimes. His commitment to the business still runs deep even after Jody’s passing until the store is sold by Janie when she decides to relocate to Everglades with her newfound love. 

Annie Tyler 

A rich widow who apparently gets defrauded by a younger lover called Who Flung. In ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God,’ Annie Tyler is used as a point of lesson for Janie right when she and Tea Cake start an affair, as she is constantly reminded that Tea Cake could scam her just like Who Fung supposedly did to Annie Tyler. 

Mrs. Turner

She is a neighbor turn friend. When Tea Cake and Janie move to Everglades, she becomes an unlikely close friend to Janie. Mrs. Turner thinks Tea Cake isn’t good for Janie because he is black, and she is of the mindset that black people – especially men – are no good. Yet even though she is black herself, she despises the skin color and fantasizes about white. She is probably the most disregarded character in Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’ 

Dr. Simmons

He is one of the few good men in the book ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’ He attends Tea Cake during the time Tea suffers from hydrophobia and does everything he can to save him. Hurston uses Dr. Simmons’ character to portray the idea white man – who is fair and treats all races as equal. He is also pivotal in the murder trial of Janie following his honest testification. 

Motor Boat 

Also, a neighbor of Janie and Tea Cake at their Everglades home. Motor Boat surprisingly survives the deadly hurricane by deciding to stay put – relaxing in his home while the chaos is out there. Tea Cake and Janie – who are out of their home and on the run, surprisingly are almost killed. 


What are some remarkable qualities of Janie Crawford in the book ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’?

Janie proves herself an outstanding character because of some of the qualities she possesses and exhibits: she is strong-willed, fearless in her truth, and goes for whatever she believes in – regardless of how people feel about it. 

In ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God,’ is Joe Starks black or white?

Joe is an ambitious African American young man who catches the fancy of young Janie. The two eventually get married and spend the next twenty-something years until Jody’s death. 

Is Janie’s marriage to Logan Killicks based on love?

Logan Killicks becomes Janie’s first husband, and no, their union isn’t for love’s sake but based on compulsion, as Janie’s grandmother Nanny forced her to tie the knot with him for protection and financial security. 

Who is Nanny to Janie?

Nanny is the grandmother of Janie who assumes the responsibility of being her primary caregiver after Janie’s mother abandons her and runs away.

Is Phoeby Watson a true friend of Janie Crawford?

Unlike all the other town’s people, Phoeby proves that she is indeed a true friend of Janie’s by showing real care and interest in her failed marital problems.

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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