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Their Eyes Were Watching God Book Summary, Review, Notes


“Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a profound and deeply moving tale of self-discovery, love, and resilience. The novel follows Janie Crawford’s journey through three marriages, each shaping her understanding of life, love, and her place in the world. Set against the backdrop of the American South in the early 20th century, it’s a story of a black woman’s struggle for identity and autonomy in a time when both were systematically denied.


Book Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Date of Reading: March 2023
Rating: 6/10


Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:

Chapter 1

Janie returns to Eatonville in dirty overalls, creating a stir among the townspeople. They gossip about her past, speculating wildly about her journey. This chapter sets the stage for Janie’s reflective journey, illustrating societal expectations and the judgment she faces.


Chapter 2

Janie’s grandmother, Nanny, shares her life story, highlighting the struggles she faced and her desires for Janie’s secure future. The chapter explores themes of freedom, security, and the generational differences in perceptions of success and happiness.


Chapter 3

Janie is pushed into an arranged marriage with Logan Killicks for security, but she finds no love or joy in the union. This chapter delves into the conflict between societal expectations and personal happiness, emphasizing Janie’s desire for love and autonomy.


Chapter 4

Janie meets Joe Starks, a charismatic man who promises a life of adventure and dreams. This encounter awakens her hope for a better life, contrasting sharply with her mundane life with Logan.


Chapter 5


Janie begins a new chapter in her life by marrying Joe Starks, a man who promises her an escape from the mundane and oppressive life she had with Logan Killicks. They move to Eatonville, Florida, where Joe becomes a prominent figure, eventually being elected as the mayor. However, Janie’s initial excitement fades as she realizes that Joe is controlling and expects her to fit into a specific role.


Chapter 6


In Eatonville, Joe’s ambition and authoritarian rule become more apparent. He builds a store and a post office, positioning himself as a central figure in the community. Janie is expected to work in the store but is discouraged from engaging in the town’s social life. This chapter highlights the growing unhappiness in Janie’s marriage as she feels increasingly isolated and silenced.


Chapter 7


As time passes, the relationship between Janie and Joe becomes strained. Joe becomes more domineering and critical, particularly about Janie’s appearance, insisting she wear a head-rag in the store. Janie begins to feel trapped and disillusioned, realizing that her marriage to Joe has not provided the freedom and love she sought.


Chapter 8


Joe’s health begins to decline, and his treatment of Janie worsens. He becomes increasingly paranoid and verbally abusive. Janie, in a moment of retaliation, confronts Joe about his diminishing masculinity and power, leading to a pivotal moment in their relationship. This confrontation marks a significant shift in Janie’s journey towards self-realization.


Chapter 9


Joe becomes seriously ill, and despite his cruel treatment, Janie cares for him. In his final hours, Janie speaks to Joe honestly, expressing her feelings of oppression and disappointment in their marriage. After Joe’s death, Janie feels a complex mix of liberation and grief, contemplating her newfound independence.


Chapter 10


Janie and Tea Cake begin their life together in the Everglades, or “the muck.” They integrate into the vibrant community of seasonal workers. The chapter highlights their happy, playful relationship, and Tea Cake’s efforts to include Janie in the community life, teaching her to shoot and hunt.


Chapter 11


This chapter explores Janie and Tea Cake’s life in the Everglades during the harvesting season. They throw a big party which is a success, solidifying their social status. The chapter underscores their deepening relationship, but also hints at Tea Cake’s occasional jealousy and impulsiveness.


Chapter 12


Janie enjoys her new life with Tea Cake, feeling more fulfilled than ever before. The chapter shows the couple’s daily life in the Everglades, with Tea Cake working in the fields and Janie managing their home. It depicts the dynamics of their relationship and the community’s culture.


Chapter 13


Hurricane season brings a devastating storm to the Everglades. Tea Cake, Janie, and others attempt to survive the catastrophic event. The chapter vividly describes the hurricane’s impact, symbolizing nature’s uncontrollable power and its effect on human lives and relationships.


Chapter 14


In the aftermath of the hurricane, Tea Cake and Janie return to find their home and the Everglades ravaged. The chapter deals with the consequences of the storm, including death and destruction, and Tea Cake’s decision to stay in the Everglades for work, reflecting on survival instincts and resilience.


Chapter 15


Tea Cake falls ill with rabies after being bitten by a rabid dog during the hurricane. His health rapidly deteriorates, leading to aggressive and paranoid behavior. Janie is forced to make a heart-wrenching decision to protect herself when Tea Cake, in his delirium, attacks her.


Chapter 16


Janie and Tea Cake, now living in the Everglades, face a new challenge when Tea Cake falls seriously ill. Janie becomes increasingly worried as his condition worsens, noticing a change in his personality and behavior. She seeks medical help, learning that Tea Cake has contracted rabies from a dog bite. The chapter portrays Janie’s dedication to Tea Cake, showcasing the deep love and care she has for him, even as he begins to lose his rationality and becomes increasingly unstable.


Chapter 17


As Tea Cake’s illness progresses, he becomes paranoid and delusional. Janie tries to care for him, but his mental state deteriorates. He accuses her of infidelity and grows increasingly aggressive. Janie, desperate and scared, finds a loaded pistol under Tea Cake’s pillow, realizing the extent of his paranoia. The chapter highlights the tragic transformation of Tea Cake from a loving husband to a danger to himself and Janie, emphasizing the devastating impact of his illness.


Chapter 18


The tension escalates when Tea Cake, in a fit of jealousy and rabies-induced delirium, threatens Janie with a gun. In a moment of self-defense and profound heartbreak, Janie is forced to shoot Tea Cake. The chapter is a climactic point in the novel, depicting Janie’s immense sorrow and the tragic end of her beloved Tea Cake. It is a harrowing portrayal of love, loss, and the cruel twist of fate that leads to this heartrending moment.


Chapter 19


Following Tea Cake’s death, Janie is put on trial for murder. The trial becomes a spectacle, drawing attention from both the black and white communities. Despite the hostility and judgment she faces, Janie is acquitted, as the circumstances of her actions are understood. The chapter explores themes of justice, racial tension, and community perception, showing how Janie’s personal tragedy becomes a public event.


Chapter 20


Janie returns to Eatonville, where she recounts her story to her friend Pheoby. She reflects on her life and experiences, particularly her time with Tea Cake, finding peace and closure. The novel ends with Janie’s understanding and acceptance of her life’s journey, emphasizing themes of self-discovery, resilience, and the transformative power of love.


Zora Neale Hurston Quote

Most important keywords, sentences, quotes:


“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”


“Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.”


“They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”


“She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them.”


“Some people could look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships.”


“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”


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 same 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.”


“Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”


Book Review (Personal Opinion):


“Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a powerful narrative that resonates deeply with its exploration of personal freedom and the search for one’s voice. Janie’s journey from a life of confinement to one of self-realization is both inspiring and heartbreaking. 


Hurston’s masterful use of dialect and vivid imagery brings the characters and settings to life, making the novel an immersive experience. The book’s enduring relevance and its exploration of themes like love, independence, and gender roles make it a timeless classic.


Rating: 6/10


This book is for (recommend):



If you want to learn more


To delve deeper into the themes presented in “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” readers might explore works on African-American history, particularly focusing on women’s roles in the early 20th century. Reading more of Zora Neale Hurston’s works, including her anthropological studies, provides additional context and depth.


How I’ve implemented the ideas from the book

Embracing Janie’s journey towards self-realization and independence, I strive to find my own voice and path in life, recognizing the importance of personal happiness over societal expectations.


One small actionable step you can do

Reflect on your own life and identify one area where you can be more true to yourself, despite societal pressures. It could be a small step like pursuing a hobby you’ve always wanted to try or expressing a part of your identity more openly.


Their Eyes Were Watching God Book - Summary-Infographic