Author Archives: johnlcottrell

Their Eyes Were Watching God

“Y’all makes me tired.  De way you talkin’ you’d thinks de folks in dis town didn’t do nothin’ in de bed ‘cept praise de Lawd.” – Pheoby Watson

          Janie is the product of two generations of rape, one at the hands of a white “owner,” which would seem to be a further limitation upona  rural black woman of 1920’s America.  Hurston uses this to a different effect, however.  Janie, as an individual, is presented to the reader as relatively free.  After the passing of her Nanny, her only familial obligation is to herself.  Granted, she is married off  irrespective of her own wishes, but it sets her on a path of simultaneously painful and enlightening self discovery.  She ultimately leaves Logan Killicks, a man her Nanny didn’t want her to “have” so much as his “protection” (p. 15).  As she moves to Eatonville with Joe her attractiveness, perhaps elements of her “whiteness,” sustain her as a trophy wife to her ambitious husband and provokes the attention of the local men and women. She establishes herself as capable, even sought after in Eatonville. Yet she is stifled by various levels of patriarchy and misogyny, behaviors unequivocally fomented by centuries of emasculation bore by Negro men as slaves in America.  As her Nanny forewarns Janie in her youth, “So the white man throw down de load and tell the nigger man tuh pick it up.  He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it.  He hand it to his womenfolks.  De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.  Ah been prayin’ fuh it to be different wid you. Lawd, Lawd, Lawd!” (p. 14).  And upon meeting Tea Cake, it becomes different for Janie.  With Tea Cake she finds love, or at least something far more fulfilling than anything she had hitherto experienced.  And he does not completely “hand it to his womenfolks.” He works hard to realize his love for Janie.  They work in the muck together and have a satisfying life. The fact that Janie has to tragically kill her love would be less believable had he not been rabid.

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