Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapters 1-5 Summaries

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Washington

Danielle is a certified English Language Arts educator with 8 years of classroom experience, and has an education specialist degree in curriculum and instruction.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. These are the perfect words to describe the love life of Janie Crawford, the main character of Zora Neale Hurston's timeless novel, ~'Their Eyes Were Watching God.~' In this lesson, you will learn more about the novel's first five chapters. Updated: 06/09/2021

Chapter 1

Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford and her many attempts at finding true love. She experiences three marriages, each one teaching her something different about men, love, relationships, and, most importantly, herself. The novel takes place in Eatonville, Florida, the nation's first all-Black city sometime near the turn of the century.

As the novel opens, Chapter 1 describes Janie returning to Eatonville in a state of mourning. As she walks through the town, all the women sit on their porches and stare at her in disgust. Eager to gossip, they practically drag Janie's name through the mud. They talk about how she left town in a fancy dress, and has returned wearing dirty overalls. They talk about how she ran off with a younger man, but has now returned alone. What they especially hate about Janie, though, is her money and her beauty, particularly her long hair, light skin, and shapely figure.

During the gossip fest, Janie's best friend, Pheoby, stands up for her, and leaves to take Janie some dinner. The two friends begin catching up. Pheoby shares her concerns that Tea Cake, Janie's much younger third husband, has stolen all her money and left her for another woman. Janie assures Pheoby that Tea Cake was good to her, but that he is indeed gone. Pheoby settles in as Janie prepares to share her story.

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  • 0:04 Chapter 1
  • 1:28 Chapter 2
  • 2:32 Chapter 3
  • 3:17 Chapter 4
  • 4:15 Chapter 5
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Chapter 2

In Chapter 2, Janie decides to tell Pheoby her story from the beginning, starting with her early life. At this point, the novel enters flashback mode as we go to Janie's past. We learn that Janie never knew her parents and was raised by her grandmother (called Nanny), who was a nanny for a white family. Her grandmother worked hard to take care of her, eventually purchasing her own house and land.

At 16, Janie is laying outside under a pear tree. She sees a bee pollinating a blossoming pear tree and becomes aware of her sexuality for the first time. At this point, she becomes obsessed with the idea of love. When Janie's grandmother catches her kissing a boy, she declares that Janie is now a woman and must get married as soon as possible.

She arranges a marriage between Janie and Logan Killicks, a much older man in their community. Janie is distraught and begs her grandmother not to make her get married, but to no avail. Nanny explains that she is getting old and wants Janie to have protection when she's gone.

Chapter 3

In Chapter 3, the novel continues in flashback as Janie marries Logan Killicks, who happens to own 60 acres of land. Nanny assures Janie that she will learn to love Logan after they get married, but three months pass and Janie still doesn't feel anything. In fact, she hates everything about Logan, from the shape of his head to his dirty feet.

She goes to visit Nanny to share her troubles. Nanny doesn't show any pity, telling Janie that she ought to be glad to be married like a respectable woman. She assures Janie that love will come eventually. She sends Janie away and dies one month later. As time goes on, Janie learns a hard lesson: marriage does not equal love. With this, she becomes a woman.

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