Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Fate and Free Will

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Fate and Free Will

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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, fate is synonymous with God and nature...while a person’s free will has much to do with his decisions and his faith. Ambitious or powerful men try to take their destinies into their own hands, while less powerful men usually trust to the essential goodness of the world.

Faith isn't always a religious concept—it's more associated with simple trust. Certain acts defy God or take His mercy too much for granted, and such sinners are punished. Thus, a man’s choices can indeed affect his destiny, but only within the rules that God writes. Prayer is characterized as the most direct way of trying to change one’s destiny.

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. To what extent is Janie’s life already determined at birth? Consider factors outside her control such as her gender, race, bloodline, and appearance.
  2. How important is faith to Janie and Nanny? At what specific moments do they pray to God and for what ends? Does God seem to answer? If Janie does not have faith in God, what does she believe in?
  3. Joe is the most ambitious character in the novel, determined to take his destiny into his own hands. How does he assert his will in Eatonville? On Janie? Does Joe succeed in achieving his goals? What does he gain and lose along the way?
  4. God’s judgment on man is depicted through the fury of the hurricane. What does this say about the way man should live his life? Does heaven seem to condone either Joe’s obsessive ambition or Tea Cake’s casual come-what-may attitude?

Chew on This

The novel demonstrates that destiny and chance overpower any individual choice that Janie makes; her life is ruled by things completely outside of her control.

The novel demonstrates that free will and choice can overcome the constraints placed on an individual by chance; the choices Janie makes ultimately shape her character more than predestination does.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Fate and Free Will Study Group

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