Published as observed in Janie’s relationship with Vergible

Published in 1937 by author Zora Neale Hurston, the novel ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ chronicles an African American woman’s journey to find true love in the Deep South. On one hand, an equal balance of power in a relationship leads to equality, fulfilment, and happiness for both partners – as observed in Janie’s relationship with Vergible Woods (Tea Cake). On the other hand, an unequal distribution of power in a marriage with a dominant partner leads to an overall sense of discontent and unhappiness in the relationship, as observed in Janie’s first two marriages to Logan Killicks and Joe Starks respectively. Thus, an equal balance of power in a relationship built on mutual respect and desire is a vital to a stable and healthy relationship. At a very young and tender age, Janie develops an ideal view on the concept of marriage and romantic relationships, which is soon shattered by her experiences in her first two marriages. Her ideal view is shaped and created by the time she spends under the pear tree. Many an afternoon Janie would bask in it’s shade, and observe the bees “sink into the sanctum of the bloom”, and watch the “thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and ecstatic shiver of the tree from the root to tiniest branch” (Hurston 11). She assumes that the flitting of the bees around the pears is “marriage” and feels as if she has been “summoned to behold a revelation” (Hurston 11). These seemingly pure interactions between the bees and the pear tree shape Janie’s expectations from a marriage – mutual and reciprocal fulfilment and happiness. This aforementioned desire propels Janie through life, and in her quest for the ideal romantic partner. Janie’s dreams and expectations are completely and utterly crushed in her first two marriages, when she realizes that love isn’t always reciprocated and mutual. Her first marriage to the farmer Logan Killicks is a painful one, his extremely blunt nature and old age contrast sharply with Janie’s youth and beauty. She describes her discontent in the marriage to Nanny (her grandmother) when she visits her briefly, and says that she wants “things sweet wid her marriage”  and cries while recounting that Logan “never mention nothin’ pretty” (Hurston 24). Janie views the emotionless Logan as a blatant desecration of everything she considers to be true love, as shaped by her experience under the blossoming pear tree. Her impression of Logan further deteriorates with time, and is destroyed by his dominating nature, which manifests itself when Logan compares Janie to his first wife, saying that she (Logan’s first wife) would have “never bothered me ’bout choppin’ no wood nohow” (Hurston 26). Logan makes this comparison in the hopes of illustrating the submissive nature he wanted Janie to take on (similar to that of his first wife), and broadly considers women to be tools that he could use. When Janie defends herself and speaks up, he reprimands her, saying that Janie had been “spoilt rotten” (Hurston 26). Logan strongly believes in the notion that marriage warrants the domination of the female partner, and attempts to fulfil his assumed part in the relationship by commanding Janie, to which Janie doesn’t take kindly. Her expectations of a mutually loving relationship are not met by Logan, and thus Janie elopes with Joe Starks in the hopes of finally living her ideal marriage. Although initially hopeful about her new marriage, Janie gradually discovers that her current relationship with Jody wasn’t any better than her previous one with Logan. Janie recognizes Joe’s true oppressive nature and says “You sho loves to tell me whut to do, but Ah can’t tell you nothin’ Ah see!” (Hurston 71). This disparity is a clear representation of Joe’s expectations from Janie – her complete and utter subjugation. Janie tries to fight back against Joe’s oppressive nature, but it “just made Joe do more”, as he wanted her obedience and would “keep on fighting until he felt he had it” (Hurston 71). Jody considers Janie to be his personal slave, and pays no heed to her feelings and desires. This results in their spirit of marriage gradually dying out, thereby “leaving the bedroom” and “living in the parlour” (Hurston 71).  Janie realizes that she doesn’t have feelings towards Joe anymore, and thus begins to distance herself from him as she no longer sees him as the man she once perceived him to be. Although she was initially attracted to Joe because of his ambition and power, the marriage ends when she leaves him and returns to Eatonville. Thus, in her attempt to find and live her ideal marriage, Janie undergoes various hardships and struggles, but is unable to live her dream due to the lack of equality in her relationships, which stem from the lack of mutual love and respect. In the aftermath of Jody’s death and Janie’s mourning period, she cherishes her freedom and wishes to preserve her new found independence. However, one evening, she meets Tea Cake, a tall, well mannered man who buys cigarettes from her store and then goes onto strike up a conversation with her. Being very different from her previous husbands, Tea Cake is like a breath of fresh air to Janie, who is taken aback by his charming and humorous nature. He offers to play checkers with her, and states that she Janie “looks hard to beat” (Hurston 95). Tea Cake’s recognition of Janie as an equal and competitive opponent, and his invitation to play checkers is a symbolic representation of equality and mutual respect between him and Janie. This stands to represent the respect and equality in their budding relationship. Janie “glows inside” and is elated that “someone wanted her to play” (Hurston 96). As time passes by and Janie and Tea Cake grow closer, she realizes that she loves him due to his openness and him acknowledging her feelings, which is something her previous husbands had never done. The openness and truth in their marriage keeps it alive, and strengthens their bond as husband and wife. Their marriage stands the test of time, and is unbreakable due to the mutual respect and love the two have for each other – something Janie was missing with her previous husbands. Through the trials and tribulations of her marital life in the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie is finally able to find the perfect soulmate – one that she had been craving ever since her experience under the blossoming pear tree. She realizes that she can never find true happiness with a dominating partner, and is finally satisfied when she marries Tea Cake due to the stable balance of power between the two, which is supported by the mutual respect and trust in their relationship.