About the Book

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


Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston’s acclaimed book, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God,’ follows the story of the headstrong and irreverent Janie Crawford as she embarks on a lonely journey to find self-peace, fulfillment, love, and respect.

The social reality of ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ has odds stacked up against Janie Crawford – who wants more respect and equality for women of her generation, but the problem is she exists in a world where women such as herself are slapped with gender negative roles and subjugated by men in the family and civil life.

‘Spoiler Free’ Summary of ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’

A woman in her middle age comes into a familiar village dressed in shabby clothes but looks like someone who has found peace with herself. She had left the community many years ago in pursuit of her own version of reality, a romantic relationship that does not confine women to being only housewives to men as is the norm for the women of her generation. 

Having had a lifetime experience that spans three tough marriages, she returns home to face the glazing eyes of the villagers who are waiting to judge, gloat, and criticize her. Of course, she doesn’t care too much about these people or their negative comments, for she is resolute and strong-willed herself. 

In the whole village, there is only one person who wouldn’t mock her, and this person she feels comfortable enough to share her story with is her best friend since Adam. As she begins her story, her listener is blown away by the hardship she’s had to pass through to find the peace and contentment she was looking for – having ventured out on the quest as only sixteen and now returning as a forty-something years old. 

Full Summary of ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’

Spoiler alert: important details of the book are revealed below.

Janie unexpectedly reappears in Eatonville, her village since childhood, following several years of her disappearance. The villagers look on with grateful eyes, appearing to already judge her for her inability to keep a marriage and tagging her as a failure in life. Janie doesn’t say a word to them as she’s not interested in their feelings, but when her bosom friend Phoeby Watson inquires what had happened to her, she is obliged to tell her story – and so begins the book’s main plot.

Janie was abandoned by her mother and is raised by Nanny, her grandmother. Nanny does her best to care for and protect Janie, and when Janie comes to a marriageable age, she gives her off to Logan Killicks, a potato farmer who appears much older than Janie. Although this gesture from Nanny is geared towards getting the best man to continue the work of caring, loving, and protecting her granddaughter, soon Janie finds out that her idea of marriage isn’t what the controlling and autocratic Logan could offer – and when she comes across sweet talker and romantic Joe Starks, both decide to run off together and get married in a far-away land. 

Janie and Joe start off their life together in Eatonville, where an ambitious Joe soon becomes the biggest man in town – excelling in business and in politics, rising to the rank of mayor. However, their marriage falls apart as Joe refuses her the freedom to follow her own passions and pursue her dreams – even barring her from socializing with the people in and outside their social class. Their marriage struggles for 20 years, and then one day, they have a quarrel, and Janie insults her husband before his subjects – who in turn beat her heavily. 

Janie runs away from the house – only returning a few months later when Joe falls terribly sick on his deathbed. When Joe dies and is buried, Janie finds she’s never felt freer, alive, and independent for the longest time. Less than a year after, she clicks with a much younger Tea Cake – much after turning down a list of admirers. For the first time, Janie finds someone who gives her nearly the kind of love and freedom she’d dreamed of. In this euphoria, she sells off her late husband’s businesses, weds Tea Cake, and moves to Jacksonville with him. 

Both started life as a couple – but it’s not perfect, with Tea appearing to be only interested in her money and proving this by pilfering from her and running away only to come back later to apologize. They make up and then relocate to Everglades, where their home becomes a hotspot for social gatherings and activities because of how friendly and close they are to friends and neighbors. However, their newfound joy from work and social life lasted two years before a devastating hurricane hits Everglades, and while the couple tries to save their lives in all the destruction and madness, Tea is bitten by a rabid dog, but he takes it for granted and doesn’t treat it. 

A few weeks later, Tea Cake falls sick from the bite and behaves in a strange way. He comes to the illusion that Janie is unfaithful to him. Following a moment of argument, Tea Cake grabs a gun to kill Janie, but Janie ends up killing him. Janie is arrested and tried for murder but is released on account of self-defense. 

Janie travels back to Eatonville, bringing us to the starting scene where the villagers look at her with judging eyes. After she wraps her story and Phoeby leaves, she goes to bed happy and in tranquility with herself.


What is the key message in Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’?

Although Zora Neale Hurston meant for her book to serve as a sort of wake-up call against the poor treatment of women by society and men, the narrative also includes themes about true love, respect, and independence.

Why does Janie Kill Tea Cake in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston? 

Janie kills her partner Tea Cake in an event of self-protection. Tea Cake had been compromised after a rabid dog attack from the deadly Everglades hurricane. 

Does Janie ever get to meet her mother Leafy in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’?

The protagonist of Hurston’s novel, Janie, does not get to see or meet with her birth mother, Leafy – who runs away shortly after Janie’s birth. 

What kind of neighbours does Janie have in her Eatonville community?

Janie’s neighbors are mostly not nice people – except for Phoeby, her best and true friend. They only care about mocking and gloating and love to see her fail.

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.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap
Share to...