Comparing and Contrasting Relationships in Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwanee

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Comparing and Contrasting Relationships in Hurston’s Novels, Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwanee

In Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwanee, Zora Neale Hurston creates two protagonists, Janie and Arvay, and depicts their rich relationships with Tea Cake and Jim, respectively. This brief paper compares these two women and their interaction with their husbands. Contrasting the similarities of these relationships helps underscore deeper themes that Hurston draws from two ostensibly different women.

Tea Cake and Jim bear substantial resemblance to each other. They both carry a rather unsavory reputation around their towns, they both woo their new wives aggressively; they even take care of their
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For Janie, her quiet moralizing to Phoebe about love is rooted in her past relationships with three different men, “you got tuh go there tuh know there” (226, Hurston’s italics). Janie’s refuge is in her memory of Tea Cake, who in her remembrance has a halo-ish “sun for a shawl,” and she realizes “Of course he wasn’t dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace.” (227). Janie’s collective experiences allow Tea Cake’s memory to comfort her from beyond the grave. In a sense, her feelings for him are great enough to replace his absence. But Hurston closes the novel with an intriguing simile, as Janie”pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net....So much of life in its meshes!” (227); what would ordinarily be an image of entrapment is transfigured into one of succor. The image is that of Janie harvesting her memories for sustenance and comfort.

If Janie’s tales stem from her wisdom borne from accumulated experiences, Arvay’s “moment of great revelation” derives from a deeper understanding of Jim, that he “had his doubts about holding her as she had hers about him” (348). But Arvay’s understanding, like Janie’s, is conditioned by her past – in Arvay’s case, by seeing the broken-down town and society in Sawley from which Jim rescued her. Having been reunited with Jim, Arvay realizes that she must distinguish between “outside Jim” –

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