In the novel, Their Eyes were Watching God, Jody Sparks, popularly known as Joe Sparks, has a significant influence on Janie’s life. Joe Sparks is Janie’s second husband and the two meet when Janie is on the verge of breaking up from the first marriage. Joe is a charismatic young man, who possesses rich entrepreneurial skills. His charisma convinces Janie that he is the man of her dreams and she agrees to run away with her to Eatonville. He is therefore an opportunistic person, who identifies an emotional weakness in Janie and capitalizes on every moment that can undermine her empowerment. He is bossy and exerts power on everyone including Janie, hindering her empowerment, independence, and freedom. His actions leave Janie desperate for love, disappointed, and emotionally distanced.
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Joe’s entry into Janie’s life is at an appropriate moment, since Janie is on the verge of breaking up with her former husband due to mistreatment, and Joe creates the opportunity that Janie has been waiting for. Joe appears as the perfect husband to Janie, since according to the author, Janie gets attracted to him at first sight. His physique and charisma mislead Janie to think of him as a perfect lover, who can treat her the way she has always desired. To prove his point, he convinces Janie to run away with him and start a new life at Eatonville. Initially, their love life seems perfect, until Joe starts revealing his true character.
Joe is bossy, suffers from a superiority complex, and has poor communication skills. Upon arriving at Eatonville, his first move is to relocate some town dwellers to find space for constructing his businesses. He cares less about other people’s welfare since he is self-centered and selfish. These characteristics are not only evident in his business practices, but also at home. While Janie always desires for independence and freedom, Joe is against any of these. He considers Janie as his property, and hence expects no demands from her. Also, he dictates upon her the types of clothes and headscarves to wear, despite Janie having beautiful and straight hair that resembles the Caucasians.
The superiority complex in Joe extends the emotional gap existing between the couple since he does not seem ready to give in to emotional demands, which are significant in any relationship. When Janie accompanies Joe to some of the mayoral functions, he expects her to dress according to his will, as a show of power and might. He considers Janie as part of his lucrative businesses. Janie has no right to participate in any decision-making process and is expected to operate according to the decisions of the master.
Janie’s wish has been to find true love in a man, who appreciates and supports her quest for empowerment. However, Joe provides the opposite. His unspoken rule is that as long as he is in control, he does not expect any other person to speak, act, or behave in a way contrary to his will. When he becomes mayor, for example, he considers Janie, not as his wife, but as a symbol of what a mayor’s wife should look like. Joe’s emotional attachment to his wife is therefore confined within the helms of power and cannot tolerate or support Janie’s empowered and personal independence. When Eatonville’s popular mule dies, Janie wants to take part in the historic procession to interact with the community, but Joe denies her permission. By being confined within the domineering rules of her husband, Janie grows emotionally weak and nearly loses hope of ever pursuing her dreams.
Janie’s freedom to interact with other members of the community is affected by Joe’s covetousness. Heis jealous that Janie would be lured by other men and leave him, and hence makes sure that her movements are monitored, modes of clothing regulated and her speeches minimized. Joe expects Janie to live within a strict set of rules, with her only expected contribution being to be submissive and obedient. Any other attempt to cultivate her freedom is met with hostility. In one instance, Joe slaps Janie after complaining that his food is not up to the expected standards. Janie only gets an opportunity to express her feelings towards Joe at his deathbed. After realizing that Joe is now weak and yielding, Janie gets the courage to speak out about the mistreatments, oppression, and emotional disintegration.
Throughout the story, Janie is brought out as unhappy, desperate, and emotionally disturbed by Joe’s approach to love, independence, and freedom. Joe’s behavior of exerting power on Janie and considering her as part of his property rather than his wife limits Janie’s emotional and personal growth. Her freedom is confined within the rules of one individual, who disregards other people’s desires and always prioritizes his needs at the expense of others. While Janie expected Joe to be considerate, loving, and caring, he turned out to be oppressive, domineering, and emotionally detached.