Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Freedom and Confinement

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Freedom and Confinement

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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, slavery isn't just in the past. Not only does the trauma continue to reverberate, but it serves as the founding idea on which other jailer-prisoner power structures are built.

In this novel, 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

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 feels that she is freeing Janie, and Janie feels that Nanny has put a noose around her neck.

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