Their Eyes Were Watching God | Study Guide

Zora Neale Hurston

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Their Eyes Were Watching God | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

After years of marriage to Joe Starks, 35-year-old Janie is beaten down. She has everything she needs materially, but she is spiritually and emotionally empty. Although Janie thinks about leaving, she fears the unknown. In order to cope, Janie escapes into fantasy. Deep into her thoughts, she does not have to deal with the monotony of working and her disappointment with her life.

One day Janie notices that Starks seems ill and realizes "he was hurting inside." Rather than snapping back, she says nothing. She realizes that all she has to do is wait for him to die. In the meantime, as he grows older and less healthy, Starks becomes more abusive and critical towards Janie. Annoyed, he makes fun of her for not being able to cut a piece of chewing tobacco correctly for a customer and insults her looks, telling her that she's old.

Pushed to the limit, Janie talks back to her husband and defends herself. She points out that Starks himself has gotten older, and she returns the insult, commenting on his looks and inability to perform sexually. Starks is crushed, especially because Janie insulted him in front of his a group of porch sitters. Enraged, he hits Janie and makes her leave the store.

Analysis

In this chapter the relationship between Janie and Starks reaches a new low. The narrator notes that "it got to be terrible in the store." Janie cannot take Starks's abuse any longer and begins to fight back. As a result of Janie's defiance, Starks resorts to physical violence. This chapter also foreshadows Starks's death; in looking carefully at him for the first time in years, Janie notes that "there was already something dead about him." Janie's escape in fantasies foreshadows her eventual escape from a loveless marriage.

Chapter 7 continues to explore the themes of independence and love. Janie thinks about "a country road at sun-up" and the possibility of fleeing. Instead of physically leaving Starks, Janie finds a way to deal with her feelings through her thoughts and fantasies. She mentally detaches herself from her everyday life and chores. In this way she can reconcile herself to the grim reality of her life in Eatonville.

When Joe Starks reflects on Janie's harsh criticisms—and the other men's discussion of it—the narrator compares her behavior to the behavior of Saul's daughter Michal toward David. The allusion refers to the books of Samuel in the Bible (Old Testament books that elaborate on God's law for Israel through the leadership of the prophets). Michal had loved David and became his wife, but later comes to despise him. In a crucial scene, she scolds him for acting inappropriately, as Janie scolds her husband for his inadequacies.

The events in Chapter 7 build to what amounts to a showdown between Janie and Starks. While Janie embarrasses and humiliates her husband in public, Starks hits his wife and banishes her from the store. The power struggle they have conducted in private is now on display for all to see.

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Questions for Chapter 7

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