The three works, their Eyes Were Watching God, The Crucible, and The Scarlet Letter, are all different in their plots and settings; however, they have one major common theme. All three stories have a man whose pride and status were hurt and a woman who bears the consequences of it. Despite that, these women are able to empower themselves one way or the other, refusing to serve the unjust societal structure. In these three novels, the women’s strength and power appear as a reaction to the consequences they bear for men’s hurt pride.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God was written by Zora Neale Hurston in 1937. The novel itself is based in early 20th century Florida. The story revolves around a Black woman’s life, starting with her adolescence. Exploring her freedom and desires, she experiences love with three men until she finds her own sense of self-realization and independence. All of her husbands played a vital role in her empowerment as a woman.
Men’s Pride and Status in Their Eyes Were Watching God
Janie’s second husband proves to be a skillful politician and arranges their prosperous life in an all-black community. There, Janie becomes a trophy wife as an ornament of her husband’s wealth and status. She is forbidden to engage in social life in town and controlled in order to fit her husband’s idea of what a mayor’s wife should be (Hurston 67). Despite their marriage being filled with criticism and abuse, Janie’s dreams and passion persist (Hurston 78). The contrast in Janie’s personality and her husband’s vision of his wife hurts his pride and, as he imagines, can damage his social status. As a result, Janie is forced into unnatural for her behavior and is treated as property.
Janie’s third and last husband is nothing like the others; she finds herself loved and able to self-realize. However, sick with rabies, her lover becomes jealous and violent (Hurston 133). In his madness, he believes Janie to be cheating on him, threatening to take her life (Hurston 158). In this conviction, Janie’s husband’s pride is hurt, which, induced by his sickness, almost leads to Janie’s death.
A Woman’s Empowerment in Their Eyes Were Watching God
Having been filled with hopes for stability and prosperity by her grandmother, Janie is first married to an older farmer. Unloved, unwanted, and underappreciated, she is treated as a domestic assistant rather than a partner (Hurston 29). This stability does not bring Janie any joy, yet her complaints are met with accusations of being spoiled and ungrateful (Hurston 46). As such, her empowerment begins when she runs away, leaving her husband.
In her second marriage, she finds herself suppressed and not appreciated for who she is yet again. However, having lasted 20 years, filled with arguments and physical abuse, this marriage is unable to break Janie’s spirit. Although met with violence, she stands up for herself and her ideals (Hurston 83). Despite such horrible treatment related to her husband’s status and pride, Janie does not succumb but develops a stronger, more independent character.
In her third marriage, Janie is not only loved and wanted but also taught to assert herself. Her husband helps her with spiritual growth through world exploration and introducing her to new skills and experiences (Hurston 113). However, when his pride is hurt, and he takes action in a mad frenzy, Janie no longer suffers from the same mindset that made her tolerate her second husband for twenty years. In her increased sense of self, she refuses to yield by taking her husband’s life instead (Hurston 159). Having suffered from men’s sense of pride, she reached the realization of her own importance and, therefore, became an independent and empowered woman.
The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1953. The plot is a dramatized version of the Salem witch trials. As the story unfolds, more and more secrets of the townsfolk appear on the surface, revealing many sins except for witchcraft. There are many characters with their ambitions and motives present in the play; however, this essay will focus on John Proctor and Abigail, whose actions led to the execution of many people.
A Man’s Pride and Status in The Crucible
John Proctor is proud and respected by the town man, whose secrets and sins negatively affected the lives of two women and indirectly led to the suffering of the entire community. Prior to the begging of the story, his lust forced him to commit adultery (Miller 99). As the events unfolded and the witch hysteria spread through the town, he realized that his admission to the crime could save people’s lives (Miller 52). However, since the confession would ruin his reputation, he did not reveal his adultery until it was too late.
A Woman’s Empowerment in The Crucible
The play’s most obvious villain is not John Proctor but a girl named Abigail. As an orphan with no marriage prospects, she is let to believe that Proctor’s desire for her was out of love (Miller 19). Her motivation to get revenge on Proctor’s wife for separating them and taking her place is truly evil. However, occupying one of the lowest rungs in Puritan society, she is powerless. Having been used and thrown away by a man, she finds herself empowered by her accusations that incarnate even the well-respected townsfolk. Her reasoning does not make her innocent, but she does not lack character and strength after suffering from a man’s lust and pride.
The Scarlett Letter
The Scarlet Letter is historical fiction written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850. Similar to The Crucible, it is set in the Puritan community of the 17th century, and, similar to the play, the events are set in motion by adultery. However, in this work, it is a woman’s sin, yet it did not relieve her from suffering from a man’s hurt pride. Hester Prynne deals with the consequences of her action while refusing to let society dictate her identity.
Men’s Pride and Status in The Scarlet Letter
A horrible husband with a personality fit for his name, Roger Chillingworth decides to dedicate his life to revenge on his wife’s adultery. Having been presumed dead, he assumes a new identity in his pursuit of discovering and punishing his wife and her lover (Hawthorne 40). In the novel, the pride and status of two men serve as a way of tormenting Hester. Her lover sunk in guilt yet was too afraid to confess his sins in public (Hawthorne 88). The scene of her revenge-driven husband plaguing her ill with shame and guilt lover pains the woman.
A Woman’s Empowerment in The Scarlet Letter
Besides being shunned and alienated, Hester has to suffer the bane of her husband and deal with the guilt of her lover. Although in seclusion, Hester contemplates life and human nature, social structure, and morale (Hawthorne 24). Instead of succumbing to shame as the society intended for her, she rises among the townspeople through her charitable work; she becomes an independent freethinker. However, until she dies, she does not cease wearing the scarlet letter indicating her as an adulteress, despite the church’s permission (158). In doing so, she refuses to allow society to determine her identity, taking her life into her own hands.
The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, and Their Eyes Were Watching God were written in different periods, varying in stories and settings. Despite that, a similar theme can be noticed in all three works. In each of these pieces of literature, a man’s pride is hurt, damaging his social status, the consequences of which torment the women around them. Despite that, these women do not have their spirits crushed but instead become stronger and find ways to empower themselves. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, a long period of suffering and unhappiness in marriages in Janie’s life did not stop her from dreaming, leading to her finding a way to self-realize and become independent. In The Crucible, yet a villain, Abigail was able to gain power over a man who used her and threw her away. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester was not destroyed by her crime but became an independent freethinker refusing to let society define her identity despite her husband’s treachery and her lover’s weakness.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts. Penguin Books, 2000.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. General Press, 2020.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter: A Romance. Penguin, 2012.