Their Eyes Were Watching God | Study Guide

Zora Neale Hurston

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Their Eyes Were Watching God | Chapter 8 | Summary



Janie and Starks now sleep in separate rooms. Starks is losing weight and has little appetite. Worried, he consults with a root-doctor. When Janie tries to get Starks to eat some soup, he refuses. Later, Pheoby tells Janie that some people in town believe she is trying to poison him. Starks apparently believes it; he won't eat her food and has another woman cook for him. Soon townspeople enter the house every day, bringing him food and telling him what Janie was doing around the store.

Starks grows weaker and won't leave his bed, so Janie sends for a doctor to examine him. The doctor gives Janie bad news: Starks's kidneys have stopped working, and it's too late for treatment. Understanding that Starks is going to die, Janie wants to tell him what kind of person she is and insists on talking to him honestly. Starks doesn't want to listen to her and tries to shoo her out of his room, but Janie gets her way. She tells him the truth—he is going to die—and then recites all the wrongs and slights she feels she suffered from him. While she talks, Starks dies.

Janie looks at herself in a mirror, takes her head rag off, and lets down her luxurious hair. Then she ties her hair up again, composes herself, and announces Starks's death to the community.


Chapter 8 presents another major milestone in Janie's journey toward self-discovery and independence—the death of her second husband. One of the key features of the chapter is Janie's determination to speak, reflecting the motif of silence and speaking. Knowing she will have few remaining chances to do so, Janie determines to speak the truth as she sees it to Joe Starks; she tells her husband that despite their 20 years of life together, "you don't half know me well." She lets him know how he prevented her from being herself. While the chapter culminates with the death of Joe Starks, it represents the beginning of Janie's discovering her voice and the opening of a new opportunity to realize her independence.

The theme of judgment plays a prominent role in the chapter and shapes the behavior of several characters. The belief that Janie is poisoning Starks becomes widely held; the parade of food into the Starks home is his and the community's rebuke of Janie.

Chapter 8 also explores the interconnected symbols of Janie's hair and the head rag. When Starks dies, Janie feels free to express herself. The act of removing her head rag and letting her hair down symbolizes her freedom.

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