Detained by Shackles of Constraint

“… significance of an individual’s attempt to live unconstrained by convention or circumstance”

Text: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston


No matter one’s dream, perseverance is the key element that allows an individual to break free of the constraints placed upon them by their conventions. Without perseverance an individual becomes stuck within the conventions of their situation and are unable to break the shackles of constraint, detaining them from achieving their dreams. Within their Eyes Were Watching God by author Zora Neale Hurston, the character of Janie is used to demonstrate the need for perseverance when she is constrained by convention, in order to achieve her dreams. Through the initial conventions Janie is placed within, Hurston demonstrates that without perseverance towards their dreams, an individual is stuck within the conventions of their situation and therefore lose a part of their identity. However, when one experiences a moment of relief from their conventions, an individual is able to break their constraints and pursue their dreams. As a result, an individual seeks the circumstances of their dreams and reclaim their identity.

As an individual seeks to live based on their own circumstances, one becomes constrained by the convention of their situation if one is unable to push past the expectations, control, and influence of others. After being unwillingly married off to Logan Killicks, Janie Crawford runs away with Joe Starks for a seemingly better life. Affirming his position as mayor, Starks places Janie on a pedestal above the townspeople, not allowing her to convey her identity nor allow her to take part within the town community: “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.” (Hurston 78). Joe is clearly expressing his control over Janie and his constraint over the pursuit of her dreams. This statement from Joe is the beginning of his domineering control over Janie’s involvement in the town and places her in a high chair, above the townspeople. By doing this, Joe is isolating Janie, smothering her identity and personality. In addition to this, Joe forces Janie to cover her hair with a head rag when out in public. This notion shackles Janie to her oppressor in which she is no longer herself. When one’s identity and ability to express one’s self is stripped from them, an individual is constrained by their circumstances of their situation. Constrained within a situation at the mercy of another, one’s circumstances transform into the shackles of convention. Without help or opportunity, an individual is stuck in their unrelenting situation, unable to break the cycle. Janie’s decision to escape the convention of her marriage with Logan Killick resulted in her deciding her own circumstances of her life. However, the circumstance of being married to Joe turned into a conventional marriage as Joe now holds power over Janie’s pursuit of her dreams.

When one experiences an impactful event, they are able to break the constraint of their convention and pursue their circumstances they seek from their lives. After seven years together, Joe, becomes angry with Janie and hits her across her across the face. After this incident, Janies falls out of love with Joe as she realizes the truth of her situation. Unable to break his constraints over her, Janie remains under his control until his dying breath. “Before she slept that night she burnt up every one of her head rags and went about the house next morning with her hair in one thick braid well below her waist.” (Hurston 89) Setting fire to both her head rags and her oppression, Janie rids Joe’s control over her. The rags that were once smothering her identity were now gone and Janie’s internal flame is lit, allowing her to be free to live unconstrained by Joe. With her hair and identity free, Janie is able to escape her conventions and pursue her horizon. When one is given the opportunity to free themselves from the shackles of convention, they must take it. As an individual releases the very thing that detained them from their achievement of their dreams, one is finally able to express their identity. Without action, one cannot rid themselves of what is holding them back from their future. As Janie is relieved from the constraint of her convention, she is finally able to pursue the circumstances of her dreams, and reach the horizon. 

Able to pursue one’s dreams, an individual is free to express their true identity without the constraint of convention. Left alone for several hours, Janie becomes worried of Tea Cake’s well being and prays to God for his safety. After his return, Janie is deeply upset and does not hold back from telling Tea Cake how she feels. After their conversation, Janie finally realizes the true love they share. “Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out of its hiding place.” (Hurston 128). Janie’s self realization of her true love for Tea Cake conveys her ability to freely express her identity.Throughout their time together, Tea Cake and Janie reveal that their love is equally shared and that there is no constraint within their relationship. With Tea Cake, Janie is able to express her true self and express her identity as she sees fit (even when tying back her hair). After the fight to release the shackles that bound her to her conventions, Janie is now able to live under her own circumstances. When one fights to release their shackles of constraint, they must never give up. The light at the end of the tunnel is the reason why someone attempts to live unconstrained, to achieve their dreams. Free of one’s constraints, an individual is able to express one’s self with no consequence and further attain their destiny. Through perseverance, Janie achieve her dreams, and her circumstances where she is able to live without the constraints of the conventions placed upon her by others.

When an individual is able to persevere through the constraints that hold them back, one is able to achieve the circumstance of their dreams. Through Janie’s marriage to Joe Starks, her situation became conventional as Joe held Jaie back from what she wanted from life. However, when Joe passes, Janie is able to break the shackles of constraint by burning her head rags, freeing her identity. Now able to walk confidently with her identity, Janie chases her dreams and lives a life with her own circumstances. No matter one’s situation, perseverance allows one to break any constraint of convention in order to achieve the circumstances of their dreams.

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