Sheer brilliance: the ability to withstand the criticism of the mob, to defy the social conventions which have dictated the lives of the multitudes and therefore oppose the multitudes solely with spirit, alone, as an individual, unconstrained by society. A life of deviation is championed when it is accompanied by confidence, the innate belief that one is able to endure the criticism, those iron chains rusted from their ancient dating and ensuing corruption. Such conventions are safeguarded, barricaded by those who hold them dear, thus to oppose is an attack upon a widely accepted way of life. To retreat, to put on a masquerade, is consequently an act of appeasement, in which one’s identity will be constrained to the extent that it is stunted, unable to blossom into its own pear tree. Individuals must withstand the criticisms of society when social norms, conventions, are broken or they must wear a mask that constrains them as they fake abiding to conventions because they are unable to withstand the constant criticism. An independent woman like Janie from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God knows all about the rejection she faced for her dreams. Individuals, like Janie, who deviate from convention, as a woman who sought to control her own life, a controversial concept, must sacrifice their ideals or blindly march against convention. In Hurston’s novel, in order to live an unconstrained life, individuals must be able to discover their identity, which is contradictory of convention to be at peace with themselves. As an idealist, Janie never reached her full potential when conforming to the conventions of society and was revitalized with life when her freedom was returned to her upon her husband’s death. Furthermore, when given the opportunity, Janie took full advantage and initiated her vision, leading a life deemed unorthodox by her community, which she cared not for because she had found her true self in her dreamt of present. Zora Neale Hurston gives the impression that one can only truly understand themselves when they are living unconstrained, as the truth about themselves would remain hidden from oneself when they abide by the conventions of society.
Idealism is confronted by reality when youth is usurped by experience, resulting in idealism following the past paved paths of wisdom. In Janie’s youth, it is her developing sexual maturity that leads to her Nanny’s concerns. Nanny fears that without constraint, Janie will make the same mistakes that she experienced in her past that would ruin her life’s potential. Nanny desired a life for Janie that was better than her own.Therefore, Janie was instructed to “git up on dat high chair” no matter what it costs. Nanny desired a safe future for Janie, “taint Logan Killicks ah wants you to have, baby, its protection.” Despite Nanny’s evident love and concern. Her experiences were conflicting with the ideals that Janie was experiencing. Tension arose between Janie and Nanny as Janie was firm in her belief that Logan Killicks was “desecrating the pear tree.” Janie attempts to live unconstrained by conventions but Nanny refuses to allow her to, “she slapped the girl’s face violently” in order to regain her authority over her. Nanny’s resolve to constrain Janie overcame her will to deviate as she was too young and inexperienced to understand what constraints she was adopting from Nanny. From this point, Janie’s identity was prevented from blossoming into its true potential as she was wed into conformity based on the conventions that Nanny subscribed to. Individuals often value security over happiness in life. There is a larger emphasis on making a profit or marrying into wealth to gain security that joy is supposedly to come from. This, however, is not true. Janie “nearly languished to death up there” when she was married into wealth and security with Logan and eventually Joe Starks. Though this security was entitled to her by her wealth, she had to sacrifice her own freedom for it. She no longer was an average person, she was the mayor’s wife and that title pressured her to always look proper, in which she was constrained by her inability for freedom. Her title distinguished her so well that she had a harder time connecting with the community and building relationships with them. Parents desire for their children’s lives to be better than their own; that is their legacy. This perspective is generous in many ways and boiling over in love, but it lacks freedom, it lacks individual choice. These expectations that parents institute for their children can cause resentment in their relationship, it can be seen as a betrayal of trust. Children are constrained by their parents’ expectations and therefore, cannot pursue what they long for in their lives. Parents desire for their children to be successful, to pursue security, which inhibits the option for them to explore passions. To disobey one’s parents is a difficult task to undergo, it in itself is a convention that children are constrained by, thus the ability to discover their identity is hindered, since they are unable to explore their ideals, due to their preordained obligations. There must be a balance between idealism and reality; to live entirely within one’s expectations denies them the opportunity for self discovery, they are constrained by the identity they find in convention. When Janie is loosed from her constraints, her resilience begins to develop from the backlash she faces when she deviates from conventions, which contributes to her identity, and allows her to pursue her idealism through realistic measures as she gains experience throughout her lifespan.
Despite an individual’s security in their circumstances, they cannot reconcile the contentment they are void of and must deviate from conventions in order to achieve happiness and re-affirm their identity, which has been stunted in its growth. Janie, finally free from the oppressive nature of the high chair from her marriage to Jody, is now able to begin to make her own decisions for herself. Yet when she revitilizes her childhood dream of the pear tree, she is mocked by the town and and receives opposition from them. Tea Cake, who begins to embody the pear tree for Janie, is viewed as unconventional by the town and they begin to judge and criticize her for her decisions. This is a consequence of her time spent on the high chair, her underdeveloped relationships with the town cause this prejudice that the town has towards her. They do not understand her as an individual, therefore, the only basis they can know her by is through social conventions. Yet to Janie, a life with Tea Cake would fulfill her identity as she can fill a hole that has remained unsealed for all of her life. Even when “the town began to notice things and got mad,” Janie stood her ground and claimed her identity; she was to live out of love, pursuing the horizon, not become a replica of a conventional woman in society. Rather than “marryin’ dat man up dere in Sanford,” Janie wants to live in freedom, to forge her own path that embodies her identity. As a result of this certainty, the town judges her choice in husband as Tea Cake is younger than her, much poorer than her, and had a character that portrayed mischief and deception, as if he would take advantage of her. She is warned about becoming the next “Annie Tyler,” a woman similar to Janie that was taken advantage by a swindler of a man, seemingly comparable to Tea Cake. Society tries to constrain her but Janie is determined to break free from their leashes and lead a life opposite of Nanny’s expectations. Janie is exhausted and disappointed with the results of other people’s advice as they are tied too heavily to conventions and “now I means to live mine.” Janie’s dissent from her community’s advice outcasts her from all she knows, away from all her security, allowing her identity to evolve from that of convention, to what she will make of it, unconstrained by anybody except herself and Tea Cake. What an individual strives to accomplish in life is to establish money and security above their pursuit of happiness. This constrains them to the pressures of society, the message that all are broadcasted about the ideas of money before passion, success before family. Individuals see love as an obstacle that interrupts their success, that can impede on their career. Women are discouraged from having children because their absence from work to care for their child can ruin any chance they have of advancing into higher, more specialized positions. These conventions dictate what ambitions individuals are to have, highlighting the risks associated with deviating from them. To then deviate from convention will appear as irresponsible or as a gamble and will be met with criticism. Even though conventions believe in the cynicism of all individuals, it discourages cynicism when it is outside the realm of social norms. Conventions are hypocritical in that they pressure individuals to become constrained by their guidelines, deceiving them into attaining happiness when the result is in defeat and disappointment. It could not be further from the truth. Individuals can only be happy when they are pursuing what they are passionate about, not what is conventional. Through defying conventions, individuals will discover their identity as they leave the rules that grant conformity. These conventions lump all into the same values and pursuits while abandoning these constraints will allow for unique and diverse perspectives that develop an individual’s identity fully.
Idealism is based upon an individual’s deep convictions in their identity, thus it is equally inspired as it is corrupted when an individual’s self perception is marred by the constraints of society. Janie, in the novel, is portrayed as faithful to her dreams and identity, so when she is at risk of a felony for murdering Tea Cake, it tests Janie in her resolve to remain unconstrained by the conventions and circumstances of society. It is here, in the trial that Janie must defend her actions under direct attack from those who seek a conventional punishment for her foul deed. They insulted to character, her marriage; they called her a liar, that she made Tea Cake “work for her like a dog” while she “took up with another man.” Tea Cake was from that community, they saw Janie as the outsider, the “Who Flung” that took advantage of Tea Cake, “Annie Tyler.” For Janie “it was not death she feared. It was misunderstanding;” to be convicted would be “ a real sin and a shame.” To be accused for murder would have constrained her for eternity as she would be unable to be restore her honor and identity among society because of her reputation. Nobody would be able to allocate the same respect for her as conventions dictate a stigma against those who are criminals. To be convicted for his murder would inflict her with guilt as she would be constrained by her actions in his death. But, “ of course he wasn’t dead,” Tea Cake would forever live within her, a part of her identity, conscious of him “until she herself stopped feeling and thinking.” His presence would either wrack her with guilt daily or reinforce her love and identity because he will always be with her. As she is pardoned by the court she now lives unconstrained by the guilt of her murder and therefore, her identity is strengthened as Tea Cake will always be there, a reminder of all she has achieved and collected from her trip to the horizon. Every individual shares the concerns for the perspectives that others have of them. This constrains them as they worry about trivial things, burdening them, distracting them from fulfilling their identity. These conventions pressure conformity, to maintain a perfect reputation is an ensnaring trap that constrains one. These forces serve to reduce one’s self esteem and worth when they cannot meet the standards, often leading to a life as an outcast. To truly be free, one must engage these conventions and best the tension that comes with it. Progress never happens without defiance; acquiescence and appeasement are constraints that submit to the ironclad conventions. Simply not accepting what society and convention label one is defiance enough, to ignore prejudice can allow one to encourage their own identity as they explore it through their resilience. Individuals who value their identity and freedom will not allow themselves to be controlled by others, they fear not the consequences of convention, only the repercussions to their identity that will therefore constrain them.
Zora Neale Hurston develops in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, the idea that the conditions to live an unconstrained life are to blindly march forward in defiance, lest they sacrifice their ideals for conventions, in order to explore their identity fully, which will contradict that of conventions. Individuals without experience will fold more easily to the conventions of the world as they are unable to discern the difference between their ideals and their responsibility to obey their parents or family. After they have endured conventions, an individual will become restless as they feel incomplete, so they must deviate from convention in order to solve the mystery and discover their identity that has been hidden by conventions for so long. At last an individual will unite with their identity and be its testimony, having to stand up against the pressure of prejudice and self doubt in order to lead a life of self appreciation and contentment. “Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore it meets.” Love is never the same for everyone and it is by this fact that convention fails, there cannot be one societal program that all people have to subscribe to in order to be happy abiding to convention. If everyone experiences love differently, how does society manage to conform everything to view love in the same light, should that not be possible?