Relationships of Love
Janie has three men that shape her understanding of love and life in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Janie develops her identity by her experience with Logan, Jody, and Tea Cake. These three play significant roles in her life and have influenced the person Janie has come to be. Janie’s relationship with Logan, Jody, and Tea Cake though they seem very different, has similarities: each of these men elevate her from the society around her and her experience with them allows Janie to formulate her identity and her beliefs and Janie loses all of them by the end.
Janie’s marriage to Logan plays a big part in her coming into womanhood and her idea of marriage and love. When Janie marries Logan at the urging of her grandmother, her position elevates in town from an orphan to the wife of the richest man in town and ensures her security. At the beginning of their marriage, Janie has the upper hand in their relationship. Logan dotes on his new young beautiful wife and tries his best to please her. However, as time progresses, Janie can no longer lead their relationship and her husband acts more harshly and less affectionately towards her. Janie notices this change soon after their marriage, “Long before the year was up, Janie noticed that her husband had stopped talking in rhymes to her. He had ceased to wonder at her long black hair and finger it.” 1 Logan knows that Janie does not return his affection and feels jealous of his beautiful young wife and demands physical labor from her because he needs to feel in control. Janie waits for love to come into their relationship and realizes, as things get worse, that she cannot love Logan and tells her grandmother when she goes to see her at Mrs. Washburn’s kitchen: “Some folks never was meant to be loved and he’s one of ‘em’” (24). Janie cannot love Logan because she does not feel any attraction to him. Her illusion that marriage creates love breaks causing her to step into womanhood and run away with Jody.
Janie runs away with Jody to escape from a loveless marriage where her husband treats her roughly. Janie sees Jody as a charming man who will take her away from her miserable life with Logan and his callous treatments and give her love. Janie becomes the mayor’s wife in her life with Jody which restricts her as Logan’s demand for more work from her did. Although Jody does not demand hard labor from her, Janie has to work in the world which she loathes. Janie believes she would be happy with Jody who seemed refined and educated as her first impression of him shows: “It was a citified, stylish dressed man with his hat set at an angle that didn’t belong in these parts. His coat was over his arm, but he didn’t need it to represent his clothes” (27). However, as with Logan, although she starts with some control in their relationship, Janie gets restricted in her role as “Mrs. Mayor” and gets alienated from her husband who insults her and becomes jealous of her youthful beautiful looks as he himself gets old and withers away. For example, as Jody deteriorated in his illness, he treated Janie more harshly so people would pay attention to her instead of his feeble body: “The more his back ached and his muscle dissolved into fat and the fat melted off his bones, the more fractious he became with Janie. The more people in there the more ridicule he poured over her body to point attention away from his own” (78). Janie realizes Jody’s intentions finally and speaks out her mind in front of the town. She realizes also at that point that charm and elevated position does not bring love as well. She finds out she could not be happy because she married Jody, not for love, but to escape from her relationship with Logan.
Janie’s relationship with Tea Cake differ the most from her relationships with Logan and Jody. Nevertheless, Janie and Tea Cake become the center of the Glades: “Tea Cake’s house was a magnet, the unauthorized center of the ‘job’” (132). Janie again has control of their relationship because Jody feels he has to prove his worth as Janie comes from a higher class. Nonetheless, Janie lets her become controlled by Tea Cake as she falls more in love with him such as going to work in the fields with the other woman. With Tea Cake, his wishes correspond with what Janie wants to do. Tea Cake also shows jealousy because of her beauty. Tea Cakes slaps Janie around in front of Mrs. Turner’s brother to demonstrate his control in their relationship. In addition, Tea Cake displays his jealous as he dies from the dog bite accusing Janie of having an affair with Mrs. Turner’s brother saying: “ ‘You only sound ole when you tell folks when you wuz born, but wid de eye you’se young enough tuh suit most any man. Dat ain’t no lie. Ah knows plenty mo’ men would take yuh and work hard fuh de privilege’” (180). Despite marrying Tea Cake for love, Janie yet again learns an important lesson that happiness and love cannot last long without conflicts after the hurricane and that people cannot control their fate.
Janie’s relationship with Logan, Jody, and Tea Cake matures her and forms her beliefs about life. Although her position in society elevated with each of these men, her high rank proved insignificant against the power of death. Janie learns that only God controlled the events of people: the family they are born into, the people they meet and love, and the time of their death.
1 Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (New York: Perennial Classics, 1998) 26.