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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. How is death associated with freedom, especially in Janie’s last two marriages?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

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.

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