What is love? How can you find love? If you do find love, how do you know whether or not it is real? These are all questions that Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” novel poses. These are all questions that not only interest the main character, Janie, but most readers as well.
In the first six chapters, we (the reader) is introduced to Nanny, the grandmother of Janie. Nanny is a dynamic charcater in that she represemnts the foundation for many African-American homes of the past and present. The black home has, throughout history, been prevalent to being dysfuncytional, where either a mother or father figure is absent in a chils’s life. Thus, the young Janie is introduced and taught about ‘love’ through the perspective of her grandmother. Her grandmother sends her off to marry her first husband, Killick, whom Janie hopes to find her dream in. Unfortunately, Janie cannot discover the love she so dearly seeks to find and runs to another man by the name of Joe, or Jody. In the seven plus years that Janie is in these marriages, she still remains unfulfilled and lonely. She still has not found the fairy tale love of her childhood–yet, she has not given up hope.
In this novel, Hurston seeks to question the very fundamnetal beliefs surrounding the idea of ‘love’. Throughout Janie’s journey, she encounters different men, who may or may not have loved her, but nonetheless hindered her from finding “true love”. Janie’s outgoing and optimistic nature could not let her settle for anything but this dream she desires–to be fulufilled and completed with the companionship of another. I can deeply relate to the character of Janie, as I myself, have sought furiously to find this ‘dream of true love’. Hurston’s novel is inspiration to me, that, no matter the tribulations one must face in the search to find love, one should never give up hope that is does, in fact, truly exist.
As I was reading the first few chapters of Hurston’s novel, I was struck by how much gender was a part of the story, as much as race. From the beginning, Janie is a source of scorn and public scrutiny. She comes from a long line of women who were raped, she herself being the product of rape, and her grandmother, though trying to provide security for her, forces her to marry a much older man who Janie does not have the remotest attraction to. Janie’s relationship both with Logan and Jody depict very strong struggles between the sexes, and Janie’s suppressed resentment for being constantly silenced and dominated by her husband mirrors the silencing of the black population by the whites. There seems, to me, to be a definite social commentary on holding ones tongue in situations of obvious discrimination or maltreatment. Janie only argues with Jody up to a point, but she always ends up holding her tongue. This results in increasingly frequent and heated arguments that culminate (at least up to chapter seven) in Jody hitting her (over a meal, no less). One of the things that struck me most was the image of the mule being swarmed by the vultures. This creature that Janie spoke up to rescue (and that Jody got credit for saving) was cruelly treated and used merely to work, and is attacked by those who want to use it even after its death. Janie, too, is being dominated and abused, even after she was supposedly “rescued” by Jody. There is also an element of class in the novel. As Jody garners more and more success, he and Janie also garner status. They live in a nice, two-story house in a town that is made up mostly of shacks. Jody becomes mayor, and they are regarded with both respect and somewhat bitter envy. Gender and class are somewhat linked, particularly when Jody tells Janie she shouldn’t come to the funeral for the mule, saying, “But de mayor’s wife is somthin’ different again….you ain’t goin’ off in all dat mess uh commonness. Ah’m surprsed at yuh for askin’.” His excuse for dominating her is that of their status in the town. Both gender and class play a prominent role in the story so far, and I look forward to reading more.
I have to start off by saying that this is one of my favorite books. In these first chapters we get a lot of information about Janie Crawford. She’s probably one of the most interesting literary characters I’ve come across. She’s in an era where women were to be subservient to men, and black women were next to nothing in the hierarchy of society. She defies all these odds just because she wants something more than what her Nanny had planned for her. She wants to experience what her idea of love is, and because of that she ends up living a life that many people are envious of. Janie interests me simply because of how she was so quick to leave her first marriage because she didn’t like the way he treated her and because she couldn’t love him. And then she falls for a man in fancy clothes with fancy words and marries him. It amazes me that she had the courage to just up and move and marry some stranger that just happened to walk by her house that day. Most women at that time would have just stayed with Logan Killicks and been unhappy. I do think it is interesting that she marries Joe Starks to get away from being just a wife and cook to Logan and ends up doing mostly the same things for Joe. The only difference is that she’s “Mrs. Mayor Starks” and has to help in the store. Joe still wants her to be a woman and in her proper place. And I think that’s the main reason for her not being happy in her marriages. She wants to be just more than a wife and a cook and a showpiece, she wants to be a person with feelings and thoughts that are taken into consideration.
So far I have been thoroughly interested in the readings and discussions we have had in class. Beginning with the speeches/writings of W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington, and later following with Schuyler and Hughes points of views, I have developed a greater understanding for the historical social atmosphere of the south during this time. As I mentioned in class, all of these individuals were highly influential in shaping not only their own present, but the future of America as we know it today.
In analyzing the fundamental arguments of all of the men we have studied thus far, I discovered several basic tenets. First, I believe that each person wanted to see a dramatic change in the social and economic structure of African Americans, especially in the south. Whereas Dubois argued for a more radical approach and Washington being one more toward appeasement, both saw a desperate need for change. The same can be said for Schulyer and Hughes on the issue of “Black Art.” Given the extreme circumstances of the time, it would be highly difficult to immediately accomplish the ideals of Dubois and Schuler, however, their dream was nonetheless possible. To Washington and Hughes, the celebration and close-knit ties of the black community were held to a higher standard. In essence, their argument more solely focused on African Americans ‘sticking together’. In either case, African Americans during this time could see how either path would be necessary in order to bring about a positive change.
After considering both sides of each debate, I drew my own conclusion about the issues at hand. I did not fully agree with Washington or Hughes, nor Dubois or Schuler either. My belief is that in order to bring about significant, and lasting change you must have a combination of all of these ideals. Not suggesting that one must ride the fence, by any means–but rather there must be those individuals who can make a stand to change the present, as well as those who have faith in the dream of the future.
I have thoroughly enjoyed our discussions so far. The issue of race is something that is still very much present in today’s time also. I have been placed in many situations where i was made to feel inferior due to my rac, but i had to rise above the situation and be the bigger person. I identify more with Dubois, though i dont disagree with the ideas of Washington.
This segment from WNYC’s radio program “On the Media” doesn’t directly have anything to do with our literature class, but it is simply too fascinating to keep to myself. Just follow the link, and you can listen to the segment by clicking the “play” button located above the text description.
This is the companion blog to the class, which meets Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 11:00-11:50 AM in Arnold 104 throughout the spring 2012 semester. The class is taught by Dr. Angela Green, whose areas of specialty are American literature and rhetoric and composition. For more information about the class, please click on the links above.
Dr. Green can be reached at email@example.com.