The protagonist of Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Janie Crawford is sixteen years old when, lying beneath a pear tree, she experiences a sexual and spiritual awakening. Before she can contemplate its meaning, her grandmother Nanny forces her to follow the “text” she has saved for her life. For twenty years, Janie lives someone else's dream.
She marries Logan Killicks, an older man who owns a sixty-acre farm. Disillusioned when she finds that marriage does not compel love, Janie leaves Logan for a citified, stylishly dressed stranger. Joe Starks takes Janie to Eatonville, Florida, where he becomes storekeeper, postmaster, and mayor; Janie becomes his ornament. Denied the right to speak in public or even to listen to the “lying sessions” where the wit and wisdom of the culture are performed, Janie claims her voice slowly. In a dramatic confrontation, she talks back to Joe. After Joe's death, she resolves to follow her dream to journey to the horizon in search of people. She meets and marries Tea Cake, a traveling bluesman. Living in a migrant workers camp, she works alongside Tea Cake and learns to tell stories herself. As he saves Janie during a hurricane, Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog. Subsequently, Janie kills him in self-defense.
Critics disagree about whether Janie becomes an articulate heroine. The novel does not record her testimony when she goes to trial for murdering her husband. But after her acquittal, Janie returns to Eatonville and tells her tale to her “kissin'-friend.”
Cheryl A. Wall