The main character, Janie, embarks on an epic journey. Her search for self-fufillment as a woman and as an African-American is paralleled with that of Odysseus as her journey takes her far and wide and pits her against the forces of nature and "monsters" that try to stop her from reaching self-actualization. Through Janie's trials, Hurston makes the claim that African-American women are marginalized by their society and admonishes the Negro race to reject the materialistic attitudes of their white masters and to obey only God. Hence, the title, which suggests passive submission to the will of the Creator.
The book, written in black southern dialect, has attracted criticism by those who claim it it portrays African-Americans as ignorant. Similar criticisms have been leveled at Huckleberry Finn.