Their Eyes Were Watching God is a seminal piece in African American literature. In this novel, Zora Neale Hurston chronicles the story of Janie, an African American women who is pushed by her family into a marriage she doesn’t want, escapes it, only to land in another marriage with a man who did not live up to the fairytale vision he portrayed during their courtship. Under his authoritarian nature, Janie begins to understand herself just a little bit better. When she is forced to reign herself in, she begins to understand precisely what it is she wishes to say. After his death, Janie begins to demand freedom. Though society tries to hem her in, she falls in love with Tea Cake: a risk, a gamble, but a man she well and truly loves, and who loves her in return. She has learned to push off the shackles others place on her, but in the end, finds the shackle that remains is one of her own making: her fears. Now that she has learned to love, she understands the fear of losing her beloved.
This is the theme that emerged for me in reading this book: all the ways in which we can become enslaved. We can become enslaved, yes, by the expectations of family or society or by the hand of a ruthless man. Or sometimes we can enslave ourselves, when we allow ourselves to become captives of our own fears. It is so easy to become overwhelmed by them, to become blinded by them, to not even see or know how we do this to ourselves. It can become so hard to emancipate ourselves, especially when we know those fears so well. When they become a cocoon to hide within. When they are justifiable. But no matter how much reason we have to be afraid, those fears prevent us from being free.
And often have the potential to lead us to unjustifiable actions.
It is amazing what humans are capable of doing when they are afraid.