Nearly every person on this planet hides behind a mask made to display to society that differs from their true self beneath, and revealing the raw, flawed humanity beneath takes more courage than most people have due to the necessity of the strength to overcome the judgement of others in order to reveal the face beneath. This is especially true for the character Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God, who over the course of the book changes her outward conformity of a societal mask and hiding her inward self that questions it to a woman with the courage to overcome the judgement of others for her questioning. In Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Janie Crawford outwardly conforms to the expectations of those close to her for the sake of her pursuit of an idealistic form of romantic love, which contributes to the work as a whole by developing Janie’s character, defining her relationships with her three consecutive husbands, and refining the central argument of the novel that courage is required to break the outward conformity to societal expectations and display the inward, questioning self; doing so is rewarding.

In Janie’s second marriage with Jody, she outwardly conforms to his and others’s expectations in order to preserve the marriage and Jody’s reputation. This conformity contrasts with her display of her inward, non-conforming self she displays in her second marriage. During her time with Jody, she is excluded from ordinary tasks with the townspeople because Jody wishes for her to be a conformer to the idea of a high-class wife in order to preserve his strong reputation amongst the townspeople. This is shown by Jody having her give a speech at the christening of the lamp post, contributing to the image of a woman of status that clashes with her inward wishes to work alongside her husband in ordinary work and questioning of the gender roles. Her shift to outward questioning comes when she humiliates Jody in front of the town, revealing her questioning of the high-class roles Jody has set up for them in the town.

The submission of inward, questioning self with outward conformity during her marriage with Jody contrasts sharply with her outward display of questioning self during her marriage with Jody. The judgement she received for pushing against Jody’s repression of her identity contributes to the argument of the text that it takes great courage by exemplifying a situation in which Janie does this, and can now express her questioning self. Her relationship with Jody, characterized by them working together on the same tasks together, such as working in the field, demonstrates the fruits of mustering the courage to break the norm, because working in the field was seen as a task beneath the pedestal Jody had put her on. The questioning self is also revealed in Janie’s mastering of skills others thought were impossible for her, such as becoming an accurate marksman (markswoman?) and learning to play Checkers. Tea Cake’s encouragement of these things fosters a relationship in which Janie’s questioning self can overcome and break the outward, conforming mask. The contrast in these two relationships contributes to the text as a whole by developing the central argument that courage is required to break the conforming mask and reveal the questioning self. This is done by exemplifying contrasting marriages, one that fosters conformity and one that fosters questioning. The portrayal of Janie’s struggle with Jody and ease of self with Tea Cake develop the argument of the text

3/12/15

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