The tension between outward conformity and inward questioning is the very heart of Their Eyes Were Watching God, as Janie's iconic status comes from her journey of self-actualization.Janie conforms over the course of the novel from what others expect of her to her true self in her journey to find true love. Janie’s free spirit is suppressed by expectations from her Nanny and her three husbands, but also the society surrounding her.
For Janie to free her inner self she needs to overcome pressures not only from her husbands, but also the expectations of society.Janie displays outward conformity, or the apparent appeasement of what society views as ideal for most of her adult hood.Nanny expected her to marry and become an obedient housewife so that Janie did not become “leafy” like her mother whom was raped at an early age (73).
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Janie is forced to marry Logan Killicks despite the lack of love and equality. This is an example of Janieconforming to the wants of the people around her, despite her own emotional needs.Nanny tells Janie she “ was born back due in slavery so it wasn’t for me to fulfill my dreams of whut a woman oughta be and to do.” (16) She felt that financial security, respectability, and upward mobility were all things to be valued in Janie’s life, while Janie wanted true love, and to feel equal to her husband. Nanny and Janie valued different things in life, yet Janie conformed.Janie believes she is escaping to love when she runs off with Jody, but this is where Janie is forced to conform to society more so than ever before.
Jody pursues power, money, and status in life and forces Janie to conform to his idea of a perfect governess, erasing her independence in the process.When Jody is elected mayor, Janie is asked to make a speech and Jody stops her saying "'Thank yuh fuh yo' compliments, but mah wife don't know nothin' 'bout no speech- makin'.. Ah never married her for nothin' lak dat. She's uh woman and her place is in de home.'" (40)Jodie makes Janie conform to a male oriented idea that women belong in the kitchen and should have the same ideas as her husband.
By denying Janie the right to speak, Jody is distancing her from the community, telling her “de mayor’s wife is somethin’ different again” and placing Janie on a pedestal she never wanted to be on (71). Jody goes as far as telling Janie that “Her hair was NOT going to show in the store” to show his power over her (55). Janie is stifled by Jodie and cut off from the rest of the community by her status as mayors wife and the free, independent Janie becomes buried deep within herself hidden from the town and Jody.After Jody passes, Janie falls in love with Tea Cake resisting the community’s expectations.The community gossips about what Janie wears, what she does, and the fact that she is spending so much time with a younger, lower class male.Janie “felt like a child breaking the rules”(102)and “found herself glowing inside”(115) when she was with Tea Cake.This feeling that she thought was lost, buried.