Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

This story doesn’t easily conform to one single plot type. Janie’s story seems to have three 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 Logan's power and is unhappily imprisoned in the marriage, only to be saved and experience rebirth when she finds Joe. The rebirth plot line 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, 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.

Anticipation Stage

Janie is 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's 40 years old, she's been stuck in terrible, confining marriages since she was 16, so she's pretty 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 her.

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 loves living in the Everglades and working among the migrant workers.

Frustration Stage

Tea Cake’s pride gets in the way of 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 is bitten by a rabid dog. Again his pride gets in the way, and he refuses to let Janie find him a doctor.

Nightmare Stage

Tea Cake becomes rabid and turns on Janie.

Tea Cake’s illness is getting worse. He is becoming paranoid 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" plot lines, Their Eyes Were Watching God doesn't really feature a "thrilling" escape. There's 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's 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's bittersweet. Though Tea Cake is dead, he lives on in Janie’s heart and memory. Also, Janie has done what she set out to do: experience life and find true love. She's 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.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis Study Group

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