The Meaning of Their Eyes Were Watching God

The meaning of the title of Zora Neale Hurston’s most well-known novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, has been debated since its publication in 1937. The word “God”/”god” is found in the book a total of 71 times. There are particular lines that are commonly associated with holding meaning to the title. A few paragraphs shy of chapter 6 reveal some insight: “‘Our beloved Mayor,’ it was one of those statements that everybody says but nobody actually believes like ‘God is everywhere.'” At this point in the novel, Janie has not mentally or spiritually evolved as an individual, which is evident in this quote. However, the concept of God’s entwinement with nature is a constant in the novel: “’cause nature makes caution. It’s de strongest thing dat God ever made, now. Fact is it’s de onliest thing God ever made. He made nature and nature made everything else.'”

With Janie’s self-evolution is the evolution of God’s presence throughout the book. This can be seen toward the end of chapter 11, where Janie elevates her conceptualization of Tea Cake, someone powerful and elegant enough “to be crushing scent out of the world in his footsteps.” Then, “Spices hung around him,” making him closer to God’s peripheral as “he was a glance from God.”

Like the earthly spices and scents, Janie again connects God and nature, wanting Him to “give her a sign.” Looking for a sign from God, she looks for “a star” in the daytime” of many other things as the novel gets closer to its ending. Yet, the final paragraph of the novel, oftentimes overlooked, provides rich insight to meaning of Their Eyes Were Watching God. At this point, it can be understood that Janie’s religious ambivalence has dissolved (at least for the most part). The story closes with the image of Janie enveloping herself in the twilit evening in awe of nature’s wonders. Here, she is struck by the vastness of life within nature, then, calling “her soul to come and see.” The stars of the dusky sky, symbolic of God’s eyes, may be staring back at Janie, who is staring at the horizon.



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