Janie’s views on relationships are established very early on; looking at a swarm of bees pollinating a pear tree, Janie gets the notion of an idealized version of marriage as being a loving and harmonious representation of nature: “the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage!” (Hurston, p. 11). This is the vision of love and marriage that Janie has throughout her life, and it sets a pretty strong standard for what a marriage should be. Killicks disappoints this by being more in need of a domestic helper than a lover; she does not receive the love and attention she expects. In order to receive this, she runs off with Joe Starks, but he turns out to be just as controlling in other ways – “the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say things one way or anothertook the bloom off things” (Hurston, p. 46).
Tea Cake, however, is able to show her what it feels like to be loved and adored, both emotionally and physically. “She learns, in the brief months with Tea Cake, how to share her life with a potent male, and what it means neither to own nor to be owned but to rejoice in the creative forces of the universe” (p. 192). This is a solace and a partnership she does not receive with Killicks or Joe, and in that respect Janie is satisfied. However, Tea Cake’s contraction of rabies seals the deal for their relationship; she is forced to kill him because of the mistakes he makes as a result of the rabies. In that respect, Tea Cake’s marriage is a disappointment to Janie, but this is not due to Tea Cake’s own character flaws; Hurston seems to blame these problems almost exclusively on the rabies.
In conclusion, Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God does find someone who meets her standards in marriage – Tea Cake. Their love life is the most like the pollinated pear tree that she sees as a child, which provides the idealized model for sexuality and love that she craves. However, the marriage goes sour as a result of forces outside of Tea Cake’s control, really; the rabies and his ensuing madness are not his fault, but instead a cosmic joke played on Janie – she would never really get the ideal marriage she wanted, even if the right man was created for her. She certainly has high ideals of intimacy, but they are actually met for a while, which is a rare thing even in the world of Hurston’s book. The relationship itself is not rosy, but the book places the responsibility for that not on Tea Cake, but on sheer luck and the universe’s design.
Hurston, Z.N. (1937). Their eyes were watching God. J.B. Lippincott.
Pondrom, C. N. (1986). The Role of Myth in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching
God. American Literature, 58(2), 181-202.