Danielle is a certified English Language Arts educator with 8 years of classroom experience, and has an education specialist degree in curriculum and instruction.
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.
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.
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.
In Chapter 4, Janie's marriage has gone from bad to worse. Not only does Logan expect Janie to cook, clean, and keep up the house, he also expects her to chop wood, plant potatoes, and plow fields like his first wife. While Logan is out of town purchasing another mule, Janie sees a handsome stranger coming down the road. His name is Joe Starks, who plans to invest, get rich, and build a name for himself. He's heard rumors about an all-Black town in Florida that is just starting out. He and Janie flirt and continue to sneak and talk while Joe is in town over the next couple of weeks.
Eventually, Joe invites Janie to leave Logan and come with him. At first, Janie feels slightly conflicted about the decision. After a heated argument with Logan in which he threatens to kill her with an axe, Janie decides to leave him for Joe. They ride off to Green Cove Springs and get married. Janie thinks she's finally got a shot at real love.
Chapter 5 describes Janie's marriage to Joe. As Janie sets off with Joe, she realizes that he isn't the romantic type either, but he does love to spoil her with material things. They arrive in the much anticipated all-Black town, called Eatonville, and find it to be much smaller and rundown than they thought.
Upon realizing that the town doesn't have a mayor, Joe takes it upon himself to go see the white captain who donated the land for Eatonville to purchase 200 more acres. He gathers the men of the town, and sets to work on building a store, as well as two roads to run through the town. He also begins selling property lots to new families moving into Eatonville, and even has the town's first street lamp installed.
All this rapid progress makes Joe quite a hot shot in Eatonville, and the people unanimously elect him as mayor. With his new position, Joe's power begins to go to his head. He flaunts his wealth, bosses the residents around, and is arrogant in his dealings. The townspeople take notice and begin to gossip. Janie is also subject to Joe's iron fist, and he becomes controlling and condescending in their marriage.
In the first five chapters of Their Eyes Were Watching God, we learn that Janie has just returned to Eatonville, an all-Black Florida town, and is not welcomed by the women there. Upon her return, she begins to tell her best friend the story of her life, as the novel goes into flashback mode. We learn about Janie's first marriage to Logan Killicks, a much older man whom she doesn't love. Unhappy in this marriage, she leaves Logan for Joe Starks, a man with whom she thinks she will find love, but who becomes bossy and controlling toward Janie. Once again, she learns that marriage isn't what she thought it would be.
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