Women and Power
"De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see." --Nanny, Their Eyes Were Watching God 14
This quote establishes the novel's unusual perspective on gender difference. It's the story of a woman's struggle with power. During this time, African American women were looked upon as the mules of the world, because the men were considered the "Gods." Society believed that since they were the men of their households, whatever they said was the way it went. The novel set the tone for different novels during the Harlem Renaissance. It was the first major novel published by an African American woman, so it was often classified as a feminist novel. Feminism is often associated with the idea that men and women are equal. The narrator immediately establishes an important difference between men and women, but allows the reader to recognize that men and women need certain things from each other. (Curran 21) The novel is about an African American woman named Janie Crawford. Janie deals with power at a young age. At a young age, she never obtained the opportunity to think for herself. For example Nanny says, "Ah wants to see you married right away." (Hurston 13) This quote allows the reader to see that Janie never had the opportunity to Fountain 2
think for herself. Her grandmother and future husbands made the decisions in her life. Janie tells her life story and experiences through a flashback to her friend, Phoeby. Janie's life story is told in the context of four frames. The four frames consist of: Janie's early life with Nanny, Janie's marriage to Joe Starks, and her marriage to Tea Cake. Janie's grandmother, Nanny, was a slave who was impregnated by a white man. Eventually, Nanny gives birth to a daughter. Her daughter becomes pregnant and gives birth to Janie. She left Janie with Nanny and isn't present throughout the novel. Janie's father is also absent throughout the novel. As Janie matures, she becomes interested in the neighborhood boy, Johnny Taylor. Nanny sees Janie kissing Johnny and fears that Janie will become a "mule" to a man one day. As a result, Nanny arranges for Janie to marry Logan Killocks. Nanny believes that Janie should be with a wealthy man, so that she doesn't have to endure the struggles that Nanny did. Nanny believes that Janie must marry a man for protection. She doesn't believe that you must be in love to get marry. Logan is a wealthy, older farmer, who's looking for a wife to maintain his home and help on the farm. Janie believes that marriage must involve love but Logan wanted a domestic helper instead of a partner. Throughout their marriage, Janie possessed no power. Logan ruled over everything she did. Shortly, he began to hit Janie, and he attempted to force her to help him with the hard labor on the farm. Consequently, Janie runs off with Joe Starks, an ambitious smooth- talking man. Janie and Joe get married and move to Eatonville. They arrive in Eatonville to find the resident lacking ambitions, so he arranges to buy more Fountain 3
land, hire some residents to build a store, and appoints himself as mayor. He physically and mentally abuses Janie throughout their marriage. He disciplines her whenever he feels that she isn't obeying him. Later, she realizes that Joe wants to use her as a trophy. (Bolden 34) He wants the image of his perfect wife to reinforce his powerful status in town. (Bolden 38) He requests Janie to run the store but forbids her from participating in the social life that occurs on the store's front porch. He is aware that Janie is an attractive woman and fears that she will leave him. Janie's marriage with Joe proves to be a major example of her lack of power because she goes through emotional, physical, and mental abuse. After Joe dies, Janie is financially independent and catches the eye of some prestigious men. She falls in love with a gambler named Tea Cake. She sells the store and they head to Jacksonville. In Jacksonville, the...
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