The protagonist in Their Eyes Were Watching God is named Janie Crawford. In the novel she narrates her life story to her friend Pheoby Watson. Her life undergoes the process of self-discovery, as she evolves through her experiences with three distinctly different husbands. The novel is not just the story of her quest for a partner but also that of her quest for a secure sense of independence.
As a girl, Janie dreams of "finding a bee for her blossom" under a pear tree at her grandmother's house. The tree symbolizes marriage. When Janie saw a "dust bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom" her youthful idealism leads her to believe this interaction must be similar to the intimacy between lovers, and she wishes to be a pear tree. The image suggests a wholeness, which Janie finds only in the third marriage and relationship to Tea Cake. .
Janie's first marriage to Logan Killicks was mostly due to her grandmother's plans. Janie is forced to marry a man who she cannot love and who mistreats her. The one thing she longs for is to be treated like a lady. When Jody Starks enters her life, he seems to offer the ideal alternative to the dull and practical Logan Killicks. With his ambitious talk, Jody convinces Janie that he will use his desire for success to help her realize her dreams. However, Janie learns that Jody's effort to obtain power only suppresses her. For example, Jody forces her to wear a rag on her head to hide her beautiful hair when she is in public. Janie's hair symbolizes her freedom and is a symbol of the submission Joe demanded of her. Janie surrenders to Joe's will on the outside by wearing the head rag, yet stays strong internally against Joe's abuse. Thus, her hair implies that Janie "had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them"(p.68). After Joe's death, Janie burns all of her head rags in an act of liberation. .
Janie flourishes in her relationship with Tea Cake, as he "teaches her the maiden language all over.