Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : Voyage and Return
This story doesn’t easily conform to one single plot type. Janie’s story seems to have three rather distinct parts – one corresponding to each of her husbands – each with its own distinct plot line. For example, Janie’s story with Logan Killicks could be read as a "Rebirth" plot type: Janie falls under the power of Logan into an unhappy, and is imprisoned in the marriage only to be saved and experience rebirth when she finds Joe. The rebirth plotline repeats itself with Joe. Janie falls under his power, is imprisoned in a dark marriage, is finally freed by Joe’s death, and experiences rebirth through Tea Cake. Thankfully, by Janie’s third marriage she isn’t repeating her same mistakes over again, so her marriage to Tea Cake has a different plot line. We think her story involving Tea Cake follows the "Voyage and Return" plot format. Below is a more developed analysis of Janie’s voyage and return.
Janie is ripe and ready for love.
In Eatonville, Janie’s husband, Joe Starks, has just died, signaling the end of a stifling marriage. Janie is now free to make her own decisions, and live her own life. Though she is 40-years-old, she has been stuck in terrible, confining marriages since she was 16-years-old, so she is quite naïve about the world and eager to experience freedom. This is when Tea Cake shows up – a charismatic young man interested in showing Janie what love and the world has to offer.
Initial Fascination or Dream Stage
Janie’s relationship is everything she could ever want.
Janie’s romance with Tea Cake is beautiful. He exposes her to new things, like checkers, late night fishing, and generally living a loving, carefree life. With Tea Cake, Janie leaves Eatonville to get married and experience the amazing world that Tea Cake has opened before Janie. Unlike in the classic dream stage where the hero or heroine doesn’t feel completely at home in their new world, Janie is completely happy in her new life with Tea Cake. She feels extremely at home in the Everglades working among the migrant workers.
Tea Cake’s pride gets in the way of her and Janie’s marital bliss.
Janie and Tea Cake’s happy marriage is hurt by Tea Cake’s pride. Unwilling to heed the warnings of humans and animals alike, Tea Cake decides to ignore the danger of the coming hurricane and remain in the Everglades. When the hurricane hits, he and Janie barely survive. During the hurricane, however, Tea Cake was bitten by a rabid dog. Again his pride gets in the way, and he refuses to let Janie find him a doctor.
Tea Cake becomes rabid and turns on Janie.
Tea Cake’s illness is getting worse. He’s becoming fractious and jealousy guards Janie. Eventually, Tea Cake’s jealousy overcomes him and he pulls a gun on his beloved wife.
Thrilling Escape and Return
It’s not thrilling, but Janie heads back to Eatonville.
Unlike most "Voyage and Return" plotlines, Their Eyes Were Watching God does not really feature a thrilling escape. There is no such thing as a thrilling escape from blissful married life into widowhood. When the deranged, rabid Tea Cake pulls a gun on Janie, she certainly escapes, but it is painful rather than thrilling – Janie is forced to kill her own husband. Janie also escapes a life of imprisonment by being found not guilty when put on trial for "murdering" Tea Cake. When Janie returns to Eatonville, it is bittersweet. Though Tea Cake is dead, he lives on in Janie’s heart and memory. Furthermore, Janie has done what she set out to do: experience life and find true love. She has gained the wisdom that a person has to experience life for herself and feels that she has now lived a fulfilling life, thanks to Tea Cake.