In The Sermon and the African American Literary Tradition (1995), Doland Hubbard has argued that African Americans were forced to redefine Christian experience to make it applicable to their particular experience in the United States. White Christians had argued that slavery was justified by the Bible, and later that segregation and Jim Crow laws were biblically ordained through the stories of Cain and Abel and of Noah’s descendants. African American ministers, on the other hand, identified slave experience with the experience of Jews in Egypt, so that God working through Moses to free the Hebrew children was analogous to civil rights leaders working to bring equality to African Americans. Clearly, to black Christians, God was ultimately even and square in his dealings with people—white, black, man, woman, they were all children of the same father.
Hurston’s novel demonstrates this point long before the Civil Rights movement, for what Janie learns in both her relationships and in her experience in the hurricane is that all must face God in the same manner. Whites are not the ones who watch God and then tell African Americans what to do. All eyes watch God. Furthermore, Janie ultimately concludes that God sees each individual as unique: Everyone has to go to God, she concludes. We may assume, therefore, that she is justified in learning to do the things that men do and also in defending her life at the expense of her lover’s.
In addition to being a God before whom each individual must stand, the God Hurston presents is overwhelming and terrifying in much the same way that God is portrayed in the Old Testament. The God that Janie and Tea Cake ultimately watch in the storm reminds the reader of the God who speaks in a whirlwind and who says to Job that he should gird up his loins and speak for himself. Hurston is unclear on the true nature of this God, reminding the reader that the Hebrews of the Old Testament were unable to say the name of God because God (or Yahweh, the name they substituted for God) was too big for them to know completely. Hurston’s prose even echoes the Old Testament when she describes death in these haunting words:Death, that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West. The great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof. What need has death for a cover, and what winds can blow against him? He stands in his high house that overlooks the world. Stands watchful and motionless all day with his sword drawn back, waiting for the messenger to bid him come. Been standing there before there was a where or a when or a then.
The suggestiveness and ambiguity of these words echo the King James version of the Old Testament, reminding readers that God was to Adam a voice walking in the garden, that the void before the world was formed was “the face of the deep” on which God moved, and that God commanded Abraham to slay Isaac.
Hurston embeds in her novel a palpable sense of the wonder of God as well as the fear he and his world invoke. As the controlling image in the novel, the horizon is the place where one must go to know God, but even in knowing God, one does not understand fully the power of God. Along with the terror of death comes the power of sunrise expressed in these unforgettable lines: “She [Janie] knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making.” Ultimately Janie’s journey to the horizon and back is worth all it costs her in that she comes to know the unknowable in life. It is with this paradox that Hurston leaves the reader.
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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, idealized romantic love is the protagonist’s ultimate goal. She battles against the commonly held view of love as unimportant and frivolous (compared to respectability and material security).
Her vision of true love is associated with innocence, openness, understanding, and equality between the lovers. Sex and marriage don't inherently lead to love...though they can be expressions of it. For the protagonist, love is also an essential part of life; without it, her spirit practically withers and dies.
When love is restored, it’s like a fountain of youth. Having found love makes the protagonist feel that she's finally lived a full and satisfying life.
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Janie’s lifelong fascination with the bee and pear blossom proves problematic, often putting her in positions where her femininity can be victimized.
Though Janie comes across as a strong woman, she actually watches passively from the sidelines waiting for love to happen rather than acting to create love in her life and marriages.