Unlike The Odyssey or any other epic tales, Their Eyes Were Watching God has a different perspective of what a hero is. In this novel, Hurston writes a story about an African-American woman named Janie Crawford whose quest is to find her identity and desire as a human being to be loved and appreciated for who she is.
Her quest to fulfill those desires is not easy since she has to overcome so many obstacles and challenges in her life. A superiority that her Nanny posses over her to determine Janie’s own life when she was a teenager and being a beautiful accessory to the glory of Joe Starks’ are some of the experience that she encounters. She also has to make some sacrifices. And yet, just like any other heroes, at the end, she returns to her home with a victory on her hands. Janie who continually finds her being defined by other people rather than by herself never feels loved, either by her parents or by anybody else. Her mother abandoned her shortly after giving birth to her.
All she had was her grandmother, Nanny, who protected and looked after her when she was a child. But that was it. She was even unaware that she is black until, at age six, she saw a photograph of herself. Her Nanny who was enslaved most of her lifetime only told her that a woman can only be happy when she marries someone who can provide wealth, property, and security to his wife. Nanny knew nothing about love since she never experienced it.
She regarded that matter as unnecessary for her as well as for Janie. And for that reason, when Janie was about to enter her womanhood in searching for that love, Nanny forced her to marry Mr. Logan Killicks, a much older man that can offer Janie the protection and security, plus a sixty-acre potato farm. Although Janie in her heart never approves what her Nanny forced her to do, she did it anyway. She convinced herself that by the time she became Mrs. Killick, she would get that love, which turned out to be wrong.
Nanny’s biggest mistake is that she never consults with Janie about what she wants in life. Janie’s second husband, Joe Starks, is a repeat of Janie’s unhappiness in marriage. At first, Janie looked at Joe as a man who would offer her an escape from her loveless marriage with Mr. Killick.
She saw a promise of her a new lifestyle, adventurous and fun. But Joe, as with Nanny, was so obsessed with materialism and status. His success in re-building Eatonville to become a prosperous town made him the mayor of that town. People acknowledge his effort to get the power and wealth he has earned. They envied him because he was not only wealthy and powerful, but also he has a beautiful wife, Janie. As with the women of the town, they envied Janie because of having a great and successful husband.
However, Janie was not happy. Joe’s success was not her success. He took all the credits for himself and never shared them with Janie. He even treated her as if she were of his trophies that he had captured, and put alongside his other possessions and displayed them to the common folk. In addition to that, he often insulted and humiliated her in front of everybody. Because of these Janie finally stood up for herself after she could no longer carry the humiliation Joe had done to her.
She defied her husband, who would then die with a broken spirit. With the death of Joe Starks, Janie who is a very attractive and wealthy widow starts her new life with a new kind of freedom. She soon entered into the most rewarding relationship of her life with Tea Cake who only can offer her his guitar, his songs, and jobs in the muck of the Everglades. But that was enough for Janie to find a greater happiness toiling as a bean-picker and living in a migrant workers camp than she had in her prestigious house in Eatonville. Unlike Joe, Tea Cake’s self confidence is not combined with ambition; and unlike Joe, he can openly express his love for Janie.
He accepts Janie for who she was unconditionally and always encouraged her to live for herself and helped her to find her self-respect and her true voice. In addition, Tea Cake was able to give Janie her dream of love that Joe never understood. Except God, nothing else is eternal. And for Janie that means her two years of happiness with Tea Cake is a sacrifice. A hurricane hits the town of the Everglades-and the world of Janie, Tea Cake, and those of the migrants were destroyed. In the struggle for life, Tea Cake still saved Janie and the dog that Janie wanted him to save.
Unfortunately, by doing that he had to give his own life. The dog bit when he tried to save it and it infected him with a serious illness later on. A doctor came and tried to save his life. Yet, it was too late.
As hopeless as he was and in the fury of his illness, Tea Cake struggled with Janie as he threatened her with the six-shooter. She defended herself with the riffle. His pistol and her rifle fired simultaneously. Tea Cake fell forward and buried his teeth in Janie’s forearm, as she caught him. Life is a journey.
Some people complete it and return home, others do not even take the first step. Women live in a dream, they tend to forget what they don’t want to remember and remember what they do not want to forget. Janie always dreamed to love, be loved and appreciated for who she was. Having been married for two years with Tea Cake fulfilled those dreams.
With that, she returned to Eatonville.