Zora Neale Hurston parallels the porch to Janie's expressions; how she feels both emotionally and physically in the different stages of Janie's life in her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston was born in Eatonville Florida, the same place where the novel takes place. Hurston was a feminist writer who wrote during the Harlem renaissance period. She has traveled to many places and her fictional and factual accounts of black heritage are unparalleled. She uses the main character, Janie, to illustrate the oppressions of women and express her views on how women were treated.
In the beginning stages of the novel the porch scene is used frequently. Women of the town congregate on the porch in the evenings to enjoy the outdoor atmosphere and gossip.
The porch is used to express comfort and well being. As a young child Janie is guided and comforted by her grandmother who raised her.
You can see this in Janie's grandmothers' want for the best for Janie from the quote on page 13; "Dat's what makes me skeered. You don't mean no harm. You don't even know where harm is at. Ah'm ole now. Ah can't be always guidin' yo' feet from harm and danger. Ah wants to see you married right away." These are some of the best times in Janie's life, but all good things do not last forever and she will soon pay her dues.
At and early age Janie is married to a man named Logan Killicks, the man her grandmother has chosen for her. There are no porch scenes during this stage in Janie's life.
Janie feels empty and very unsatisfied with Logan. The porch in this stage of the novel represents the things that Janie wants and feels that she desperately needs. Logan offers little or none of the emotional or physical things that Janie needs. By the quote on page 25; "If Ah kin haul de wood heah and chop it fuh yuh, look lak you oughta be able tuh tote it inside. Mah fust wife never bothered me 'bout choppin' no wood nohow. she'd grab dat ax and sling chips lak uh man. You done been spoilt rotten.", Logan wants Janie to be more than a housewife.
Janie seeks the love and caring of another man. A man by the name of Joe Starks marries her. This part of Janie's life is most likely the worst. The porch is controlled by men. The men on the porch are harsh towards each other and often argue and fight. The porch during this stage of the novel illustrates male dominance and the oppression of women. Janie is far from happy with Joe. She is told to stay out of the gossip on the porch. Joe does not even allow her to congregate with the townspeople on the porch at all. Joe just bosses Janie around and has almost total control over her. He dominates her like he does the town and puts many restriction on Janie. Janie is physically and emotionally scared by Joe's actions. She may always regret being with a man such as him.
Janie finds her emotional and physical needs from the man Tea Cake whom which she marries. Tea Cake and Janie are Hurston's view of an ideal relationship. This is the period in Janie's life she is most happy and comfortable. Janie does not congregate on the porch with the other women because the other women despise her. She does not need their rumors and antics, she is a grown woman and all she really needs is Tea Cake. Tea Cake does it all for Janie, everything that Logan and Joe could not do.
Life as a child was good for Janie because she had the love and guidance of her grandmother. Once on her own though, it took many years to find the love and comfort that she needed. Similar to the way it was when she was a child.
After years of searching for a man who could give her what she wanted she succeeded. Janie did not need to worry about what the man wanted, they had everything they needed. She had to do the work and make many sacrifices in doing so.
Zora Neale Hurston may even be using Janie's life as a symbol for the struggle of women striving to be equal to men. It just takes time, and only time will tell.