This novel features the first strong, independent black woman in a novel to search for her identity and happiness. In those respects, Janie is a very forward-thinking, powerful female protagonist, something relatively advanced for the time period in which the book was published. Although she is a victim again and again of male repression/domination, Janie stands up for herself at several points throughout the novel.
For example, after essentially being forced into marriage with Logan Killicks, Janie leaves him when Jody Starks comes along. This would be practically unheard of in the 1930's: a woman simply picking up and leaving her husband behind. But Janie is searching for her true self, and for her life partner, and she's not going to let any man stop her. However, she soon finds herself in a very similar situation with Jody. One might expect her to up and leave, just as she did with Logan. But you need to take cultural context into consideration: she is a woman, a black woman, who has no rights to speak of in this society. She imagined that her life with Joe would be free and easy, & to some extent it is. That is the financial aspect of the relationship. Joe is a successful man, and Janie reaps the material benefits of that success. But I think that as soon as Janie realizes what her life has become, & how much Joe hurts her/oppresses her, she stands up for herself. She tells him off, in a way that is purposely emasculating (making fun of his genitalia) in front of the other men, no less. After that, she doesn't let Joe tell her what to do or control her in any way. In fact, the power in the relationship shifts from him to her, and she proves herself a strong woman of the times.
She finds her equal in Tea-Cake, although some argue that this novel cannot be feminist, in that Tea-Cake hits her and controls her in much of the same way as her first two husbands. However, there is a difference there; Janie respects Tea-Cake as an equal, and he treats her as one (for the most part). Not to make excuses for the abuse, but there's a different tone in their time together as opposed to the first two journeys of Janie's life.
It's important not to judge Janie according to our contemporary standards of feminism. We must understand that any attempt to lead an independent life was a strong statement for women in the 1930's.
Janie is a character that develops through the story but has always had her skeleton of trying to choose the life that she wants to live. I relate the story of this novel to The Awakening, by Kate Chopin due to the characters both going through the same “awakening.” In Janie’s case she experiences her “awakening” through realizing that she doesn’t have to live the life that other people or social classes embed her to live, more so to live a life that she feels passionately about. We see an example of this when she leaves Logan, a man whom she was with desirably because her nanny prompted her to be. In her nanny’s perspective, she sees Janie being with someone who can provide for her and give her all the things that she could have only dreamed of having when she was her age. In Janie’s perspective she never truly loved Logan and was under the impression that love came after marriage. When she is with Jody, she develops further to understanding how disruptive and controlling men can be. Jody, who tries to make Janie into the woman who he wants her to be not the women whom she is, allows Janie to develop more as a character into understanding who she really is and her ideals.
Throughout the novel we see Janie’s interaction with men and how each one shaped her individually, we also see an insightful perspective on an overlaying theme, self-voice. I believe what truly gives this book such credentials, and insightful evidence is that it is the first major novel by an african american women, which provides reality into a story. The book is developed through many metaphors, symbolisms, and allusions; a repetitive symbol is that of the horizon. The horizon is represented as a symbol for freedom, imagination, and opportunity; in Janie’s case it represents the life that she desires, not the one she has. As we are then introduced to the character, Tea Cake, we are able to further focus on the personality and character of Janie. Tea cake is represented as a man with a lot of vibes and soul, he brings out the fun in Janie and allows her to develop character.
The book also takes a role in being represented as a feminist novel in literature. We see this in the juxtaposition of men and women. This book was written in the 1930’s when women were going through a rough time as far as freedom and self-reliance. As we see this through Janie’s character we also see this parallelism of men and women throughout the book, “That is the life of men, now women forget all these things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they do not want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.” (Hurston) This quote shows the stance of gender difference that the author takes and shows the insight the author has of knowledge of women. Hurston also shows this comparison by stating, “ while men never really reach for their dreams, women can control their wills and chase their dreams.” (Hurston) This juxtaposition is shown throughout the book and gives it credentials as a feminist piece of literature.