Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

Chapter 1

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. (1.1-2)

For men, dreams are lofty and constantly out of reach. Men have no problem distinguishing reality from illusion. Women, on the other hand, live their dreams. They forget aspects of their lives that contradict their dreams such that they believe that their dreams are reality. Thus, women live far more idealistically than men. However, from Janie’s experience, we know that occasionally Janie realizes that her dream has died. She then seems to move on to live in another dream.

Chapter 4

Every day after that they [Janie and Joe] managed to meet in the scrub oaks across the road and talk about when he would be a big ruler of things with her reaping the benefits. Janie pulled back a long time because he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance. (4.28)

Janie is leery of Joe because he does not represent the ideals of her dreams. "Sun-up" is a metaphor for hope, while "pollen and blooming trees" represent sex and the subsequent possibility of new life. Joe represents something different for her future—ambition and fortune. In the end, Janie chooses the future that Joe offers over a predictable, isolated life with Logan.

Chapter 6

Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just some thing she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further. She had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where the petals used to be. (6.186)

The first time Joe beats Janie, her ideal and illusion of him is shattered. She realizes that his goodness was all an illusion to her, that Joe in reality "never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams," instead, she had just convinced herself that he was the man she wanted because he was a better alternative to Logan. This is an example of what we learn about women on the first page of the novel (1.2): women imagine their lives the way they want to see them, dismissing hints and experiences that indicate that their life isn’t congruent with their dreams. It takes Joe hitting Janie for her to realize that she was deluding herself. Now her vision for her future with Joe is dark and unpleasant.

Chapter 11

At the newel post Janie whirled around and for the space of a thought she was lit up like a transfiguration. Her next thought brought her crashing down. He’s just saying anything for the time being, feeling he’s got me so I’ll b’lieve him. The next thought buried her under tons of cold futility. He’s trading on being younger than me. Getting ready to laugh at me for an old fool. But oh, what wouldn’t I give to be twelve years younger so I could b’lieve him! (11.56)

Janie’s hopes and dreams wreak havoc on her emotions, which have understandably been traumatized by Joe. She no longer trusts her dreams to keep her on the right course toward love, and this makes her question Tea Cake’s integrity. In a short time, Janie vacillates between ecstasy and "cold futility," and her vision for her future with Tea Cake oscillates between blissful happiness and shameful embarrassment.

Chapter 19

Janie buried Tea Cake in Palm Beach…Janie had wired to Orlando for money to put him away. Tea Cake was the son of Evening Sun, and nothing was too good. The Undertaker did a handsome job and Tea Cake slept royally on his white silken couch among the roses she had bought. He looked almost ready to grin. Janie bought him a brand new guitar and put it in his hands. He would be thinking up new songs to play to her when she got there. (19.182)

Even though Tea Cake, the fulfillment of her dream of love, has died, Janie does not stop remembering him or conjuring up future dreams. She envisions him in heaven, playing his brand new guitar when she goes up to join him. Tea Cake is still alive in her dreams.

Chapter 20

The day of the gun, and the bloody body, and the courthouse came and commenced to sing a sobbing sigh out of every corner in the room; out of each and every chair and thing. Commenced to sing, commenced to sob to sigh, singing and sobbing. Then Tea Cake came prancing around her where she was and the song of the sigh flew out of the window and lit in the top of the pine trees. Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. Of course he wasn’t dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. (20.12)

Janie makes the final association between her memories and her future dreams. Although she cherishes the past, she does not see the future now as a bleak place lacking Tea Cake. Rather, Janie envisions her future as a time to cherish her memories of Tea Cake and wait for the time that she can join him in heaven.

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