The notion of judgment is a major concern during the opening part of the novel. There are a variety of reasons for this focus. The person being judged in these opening pages is revealed to be Janie Starks. Janie is described as mysterious and is a past resident of the town, but she had previously met a younger man and left with him. The people judging Janie seem to judge her out of jealousy of her beauty. The specific people judging Janie are the women gathered on Pheoby Watson’s porch. It seems that Huston starts the novel on this note as Janie is a protagonist and just as the women are wondering about her background, so is the reader curious as to her past.
The town of Eatonville represents community within the novel, as the various elements associated with this community structure constitute a major thematic concern. In addition to these thematic concerns of community, it seems Huston sets so much of the novel in this town as it is an all black community and as such constitutes a division between other aspects of the novel and Janie’s life.
When Janie first sees the photograph of herself with the white family she does not recognize herself. The reason she does not recognize herself is because she has played and been brought up with the white children and had come to believe that she too was white. This moment is significant in the novel as it demonstrates one of the major themes of race. While Janie’s interaction with the white family does not reveal any fundamental differences, the photograph demonstrates that the difference in skin color is a major defining feature.
In relaying her story Janie indicates that her conscious life had started at her Nanny’s gate. This is significant as it indicates the prominence of racial prejudice in Janie’s life. While her home environment did not display racial prejudice once she left this environment she faced these concerns; in effect, then, she becomes conscious of race. The image of the peer tree is significant in the novel at it demonstrates Janie’s burgeoning sexuality. Specifically the peer tree is an image of springtime, just as Janie’s sexuality has blossomed.
Nanny has a dream for Janie to marry Logan Killick a wealthy middle-aged farmer. Nanny’s dream is shaped by a number of elements. Most notably, Nanny was born into slavery and was raped. She later escaped with Leafy and had dreams for a better life; while it was impossible for her to achieve this she has transferred her dreams to Janie. Janie, however, does not share Nanny’s dream. While Janie undoubtedly seeks prosperity she is more concerned with the immediate throes of love than securing a rich husband. Obviously, what is revealed about Leafy’s conception is that it occurred during a rape. Janie’s birth is also revealed to have occurred after her schoolteacher raped Leafy. In both situations are person in power took advantage of the young woman and raped her.
Huston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Penguin Classics. 1999.