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Zora Neale Hurston was a well-known and admired writer and anthropologist. Hurston’s novels, short stories, and plays oftentimes depicted African American life in the South. Hurston influenced many writers, forever cementing her place in history as one of the leading female writers of the 20th century. Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama on January 15, 1891.

Throughout her life, Hurston dedicated herself to promoting and studying black culture. She traveled to both Haiti and Jamaica to study the religions of the African diaspora. Her findings were also included in several newspapers throughout the United States. Hurston often incorporated her research into her fictional writing. As an author, Hurston started publishing short stories as early as 1920. Unfortunately, her work was ignored by the mainstream literary audience for years. However, she gained a following among African Americans. After years of writing, Hurston had to enter the St. Lucie County Welfare Home as she was unable to take care of herself. Hurston died of heart disease on January 28, 1960. At first, her remains were placed in an unmarked grave. In 1972, author Alice Walker located her grave and created a marker. Although Hurston’s work was not widely known during her life, in death she ranks among the best writers of the 20th century. Her work continues to influence writers throughout the world.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie’s passage from repression to spiritual fulfillment as she clashes with the expectations thrust upon her by others. Janie elevates marriage and love in her mind as the highest achievement, but this ideal is defiled when she marries Logan and Jody, two men whom she does not love and who prolong her “cosmic loneliness.” As Logan and Jody both cease to “make speeches with rhymes to her,” Janie’s hope for self-fulfillment through sexual and romantic fulfillment struggles to survive.

Upon Jody’s death, Janie abandons the materialistic desires of her first two husbands (and ultimately, her Nanny, who urged Janie to marry for money in the first place), and permits herself to fall in love with Tea Cake, a man considerably younger and poorer. Tea Cake acts as a catalyst that drives Janie toward a stronger sense of self. He allows Janie to partake in experiences once relegated as “for-men-only,” and introduces her to the enjoyment of a loving relationship, one in which they make “lots of laughter out of nothing.” Janie learns to speak up for herself when Tea Cake disappears for days at a time or flirts with other women, an act that is not met with silence from Tea Cake, but rather, apology and conversation. When the novel’s dangerous and climactic hurricane begins picking up speed, Tea Cake asks Janie if she wishes she stayed in Eatonville without him, safe from harm, but Janie dismisses this idea. With Tea Cake, Janie’s “soul crawled out from its hiding place,” and she knows what it is like to have “self-crushing love.”

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