“We Have The Power”-A Feminist Criticism Article
by Charity Masica
Book: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Rating: 5 stars
Book Overview: Their Eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is a powerful book written to convey the capability and power women have over patriarchal dominance. The protagonist in the story is Janie, a colored woman whose life is filled with male suppression. From the very beginning of her life, Janie is choked by men. Her Mother was raped resulting in her pregnancy with Janie (23). Janie was brought into the world by male force.
There are several things that happen in this story that have symbolic meaning during turning points Janie’s life. These symbols are the yellow mule, Janie’s hair and Tea Cake’s death.
The yellow mule in the story symbolizes Janie’s life with her second husband Joe. The unfortunate creature was beaten and forced to work, though he was not fed properly or adequately (60). After Joe buys the mule, it never sees its master again. From that day on, the mule was free. He was allowed to roam to and fro, following his heart wherever it lead him. Similarly, Janie would’ve thrived if she had proper nurturing and understanding from Joe. By his lack of communication with Janie, Joe alienated Janie from himself. He put up walls between them with his dominance and strict rules on Janie’s conduct. Joe believes, “somebody got to think for women and chillun and chickens and cows. I god, they sho don’t think none theirselves. (Hurston 83)” Words like these strike at Janie, but she does not take them to heart. She is a smart, capable woman who does not need someone to think for her! Joe craved submission that was all. With his death, however, Janie was able to enjoy her life with freedom. She was no longer tied down with Joe’s opinion of how she should live.
No longer bound to Joe, Janie wore her hair down which was a symbol of her individual femininity that Joe had taken away. Throughout the story, Janie uses her hair get attention and attract men (33). Janie’s hair is her personal tool of power over the opposite sex. The reason Joe forced Janie to tie her hair up is because he himself was attracted to Janie because of it (33). He fears the power her assets have over men, and therefore, out of fear, forces Janie to get her hair out of sight. Just like Joe, Janie’s third husband, Tea Cake becomes jealous of the way Janie gets attention from men. He takes it to another level however, beating her into submission, like a mule. Tea Cake was jealous, just like all the men before him. He beat Janie to show her who was boss. The crazy thing is, Janie did not resist. She did not stand up for herself and draw the line. Because of it, Janie was stuck under Tea Cake’s authority until the day he died. It only took one time for Janie to let her guard down and because she did she could never show Tea Cake she was at equal level to him. She had shown Tea Cake that he was more powerful than her. Perhaps she wanted the domination since she had become accustomed to it with Joe. While Janie had the power to turn the situation around, she simply did not.
The way Janie killed Tea Cake because of his rabies symbolizes her power and capability as a woman. While most assumed Janie murdered Tea Cake out of spite or hatred, they were wrong (216). Janie killed Tea Cake because she could. No one told her to, no one made her. She saw that it needed to be done and she did it. This shows that she had strength and capability. Janie did not need someone to tell her what to do and when to do it. After Tea Cake’s burial, there were many who thought she should stay where her husband was buried (225). Janie, however, did not appreciate what other people thought if it did not line up with what she felt she should do. Janie leaving “the muck” after Tea Cake’s death symbolizes the capability and power Janie has as a woman. She left because she had no reason to stay (225). Janie leaving the muck and going back to Eatonville where she wants to be shows her confidence in herself and her choices.
To conclude, it is fitting to mention that one of the critical junctures in Janie’s life is when she speaks up for herself after her husband Joe’s cruel mockery (92-93). She is for the first time in her life, standing up to her dominance. She completed the first step in defeating suppression. Later on in the story, during her murder trial, Janie speaks out against her accusation (220). Were it not for her articulating the way she felt, she would have probably been convicted of something she did not do. It goes to show where a woman’s voice can take her. Janie lived a good life, but it was not until she stood up for herself that she truly reaped the benefits of being a woman.