Their Eyes Were Watching God
Freedom and Confinement Theme
Slavery serves as the founding idea on which smaller microcosms of jailer-prisoner power structures are built. In general, women are depicted as prisoners while men are their jailers. The institution of marriage, though often lauded as a woman’s proper place, often turns out to be a space of confinement for women. For the protagonist, widowhood is a welcome freedom from her first two marriages. One’s social class, too, can be an immobilizing force. Thus, the protagonist’s social mobility enables her more freedom than a typical individual has.
Questions About Freedom and Confinement
- Janie’s grandmother Nanny is born into slavery. How does she define freedom? How is a good marriage key to accessing that freedom? Why doesn’t Nanny ever marry?
- Why does Janie feel so trapped in her first two marriages? What aspects of Janie’s character do Logan and Joe suppress? After Joe’s death, how does Janie define freedom?
- Does Tea Cake free Janie or is it just the escape from her first two husbands? If it is Tea Cake, how does he release Janie from confinement?
- How is death associated with freedom, especially in Janie’s last two marriages?
Chew on This
Nanny and Janie hold two very different views of what freedom means; their two views intrinsically oppose each other and cannot be reconciled, which is why Nanny felt that she was freeing Janie, and Janie felt that Nanny had put a noose around her neck.