Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Great Gatsby are two novels that illustrate very different levels of class and privilege. Zora Neale Hurston’s work Their Eyes Were Watching God, which follows an impoverished African-American woman’s coming of age, is greatly contrasted with the wealthy lifestyles depicted in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work The Great Gatsby. Through their differences both authors embrace themes of love and passion as they relate to the minds of both men and women with little regard to class or wealth. Though expressed through different events, the two widely celebrated works explore the possibilities, promises, and pitfalls of romantic love. These themes are ultimately shown through frustrating romantic journeys of Hurston’s Janie Crawford and Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchanan.
The possibilities of romantic love can come about in many ways, whether it be sudden and vivid as depicted by Hurston, or gradual and traditional as expressed by Fitzgerald. These possibilities are illustrated rather graphically in Their Eyes Were Watching God, in which young Janie experiences her first genuine sexual appeal under a blossoming pear tree.
She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree…she saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. […] She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? (Hurston 45)
Hurston creates the image that Janie’s teenage mind was often busy dreaming of the lustful possibilities of marriage and romantic figures, though her youthful years proved to be less fruitful than she’d hoped. To contrast, this same idea is written vaguely in The Great Gatsby to suggest that Daisy Buchanan experiences the hopes of love in a less sensual and experimental way:
“When I came opposite her house that morning her white roadster was beside the curb, and she [Daisy] was sitting in it with a lieutenant I had never seen before. They were so engrossed in each other that she didn’t see me until I [Jordan Baker] was five feet away.” (Fitzgerald 81)
Daisy Buchanan goes on to forget about this love and, though rather grudgingly, settles for marrying another man. Yet, Fitzgerald and Hurston painted this image of opportunity to express that possibilities must always come before realities.
Promises of love can come from anywhere, whether it be from one’s mind, inside the relationship, or an outside influence. From Janie to Daisy, the promises in each woman’s life are much different. After catching her kissing a boy as she experiences the revelations of the pear tree, Janie’s grandmother assures her that marriage comes first, not love; she is promised the idea that love is learned like anything else, not found.
Yes, she would love Logan after they were married. She could see no way for it to come about, but Nanny and the old folks had said it, so it must be so. Husbands and wives always loved each other, and that was what marriage meant. […] She wouldn’t be lonely anymore. […] But anyhow Janie went on inside to wait for love to begin. The new moon had been up and down three times before she got worried in mind. (Hurston 26)
Simply because Nanny tells Janie that marriage creates love, Janie waits patiently to begin falling in love. However, when love does not come after three months, Janie begins to doubt her. Similar in theme but different in expression, Daisy has her own experience with promises of love, though more abstract and left unspoken. Daisy’s love affair with the young lieutenant Gatsby were brief but wishful, and ultimately had only introduced Daisy to a promise of happiness that was not strictly attained by her life with Gatsby:
For Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery. […] Something within her was crying for a decision. She wanted her life shaped now, immediately—and the decision must be made by some force—of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality—that was close at hand. (Fitzgerald 162)
Janie and Daisy ultimately search for a feeling that they were promised: Janie expecting her grandmother’s words to prove true, and Daisy expecting to find the love, now unattainable, she once had with Gatsby.
Hurston and Fitzgerald convey the idea that the drawbacks of failed love are ultimately productive and educational. For Janie, drawbacks are common and often take the form of unmet promises, resulting in her efforts to fix the problem. After the difficulty of her first failed marriage, she runs away with another man, Joe Starks, pursuing a better, stronger marriage.
What was she losing so much time for? A feeling of sudden newness and change came over her. Janie hurried out of the front gate and turned south. Even if Joe was not there waiting for her, the change was bound to do her good. (Hurston 38)
Her marriage to Logan Killicks was a drawback in her quest for love, which only further inspired her to push forward and live proactively rather than passively. Similarly, Daisy Buchanan experiences a period of forward movement following the disappointment of her failed love with Gatsby and marriage to Tom. When the young army man fell too distant, Daisy came to terms with the idea that she must move on in her pursuit of happiness.
Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with the season; suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men […] and something within her was crying for a decision. That force took shape in the middle of spring with the arrival of Tom Buchanan. (Fitzgerald 162)
Unlike the timely societal norms of women within each work, Janie and Daisy assume a proactive nature following failed relationships, suggesting that pitfalls of love eventually lead to a productive period.
The possibilities of romantic love can come about in many ways, whether it be sudden and vivid as depicted by Hurston, or gradual and traditional as expressed by Fitzgerald. The journeys of Janie Crawford and Daisy Buchanan prove that the cycles of love can, though not always, result in self-enlightenment and adventures within oneself. Through each character, Hurston and Fitzgerald convey the idea that possibilities must always come before realities; promises of love can come from anywhere, whether it be from one’s mind, inside the relationship, or an outside influence; and the idea that the drawbacks of failed love are ultimately productive and educational. In addition, the contrasting time periods and class settings—and the resulting depiction of a wealthy, privileged mind versus one of less fortune—work together to pose another question: though often expressed and experienced differently, is the quest and perseverance for love truly unstoppable?
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