|Type of paper:||Essay|
|Categories:||Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God|
The author presents the theme of gender roles and their relevance in African American culture. Janie, who is a protagonist struggles to discover who she is despite being oppressed by a male-dominated society. Besides Janie, there are other characters who play a critical role in the novel including Nanny, Joe Starks, Logan Killicks, and Pheoby Watson. These characters are defined by their thoughts and opinions on women. The author uses characterization to reveal information about the characters. He lets the reader infer what a character is like from what the character says, thinks, or does. In the novel characterization has been used to bring a deeper understanding of the roles of different characters and their desire to maintain the status quo or advocate for change.
In the novel, Nanny is described in terms of wrinkled old foliage. This seems to represent her useful innocence. Her rough treatment as a slave is still fresh in her mind. Being a slave robbed her happiness and independence as a woman. The bitterness forces her to impose her views on Janie. She goes ahead to force her to marry Logan. Janie tries to overcome societal limitations to tell her story publicly. The novel takes the reader through the stages of Janie's maturation as she transforms from a naive adolescent to a woman who knows her rights and can represent the society. Her three husbands play a critical role in her self-actualization. She marries Logan Killicks because her grandmother, Nanny wants her to (Neale 29). Logan Killicks is depicted as an ugly man and represents everything that Janie hates in a man.
At the beginning of her life, Janie is depicted as defenseless, inexperienced girl who must only work under close supervision and command. She is just starting her life, and she does not know what love is. Her husband mistreats her making it difficult for her to fall in love. As a young person, Janie needed the satisfaction of her physical needs including sexual needs. Considering the tragic experience of her mother, Janie needed safety. The author depicts Janie as a committed woman who is willing to fight to the end to achieve her goals.
Janie wants to do what brings her happiness as a woman, not what others perceive to be happy for women. However, her idea is not found in the traditional roles that women of her time were supposed to assume. Males are depicted as superior to females. In the novel, most female characters are submissive to the males because this was the practice in the 1930s. By insisting on her independence, one can argue that Janie defies gender stereotypes. Behind her defiance are confidence and curiosity that drives her to experience the world. Part of her maturity rests in her ability to realize that men's cruelty towards her stems not from malice but from their limited perspective and upbringing (Flore 114). Men are made to believe that women should be working under them and that before engaging in any activity, women should always consult.
Logan Killicks is depicted as a money-minded individual who will do anything to gain financial security and respectability over love. Initially, Janie thought she could find love in her forced marriage. Logan does not think a woman has a defined place of her own; in the kitchen or wherever her husband wants her to be at any given time. In their first year of marriage with Janie, Logan showed enough love. However, after some time, he felt that Janie should help him with the farming work. Logan is often angry and threating towards Janie. At one point, he tells Janie that she is spoiled. To Janie, this was unbearable. She decided to leave him for Jody Starks. The narrator says Logan holds a secret fear that Janie will one day leave him. According to the author, Logan is one of those people who would rather see others work for them than loving them in return.
Jody Starks is hungry for power. He is a politician and a businessman and later became a mayor. He treats Janie as an object and is not ready to listen to her. In Janie's words, 'he needs to have all his way all his life, trample and mash down' (Neale 39). To maintain the illusion of power, Jody tries as much as he could to dominate and control everyone including Janie. Their marriage was not based on love. To him, Janie would serve a useful purpose in his businesses and schemes (Neale 40). In the end, Janie saw it necessary to quit because she was not getting attention from him. At one point, Jody forces Janie to tie up her hair because her feminine beauty makes him worry that he will lose her. Janie becomes rebellious against the suppression. From the novel, when Jody died, Janie takes off the headscarf that Jody required her to wear. She refuses to wear the traditional mourning clothes. She was later relieved from her pain and suppression. Her independence was key. She desired to live a life where she is free to make a decision and engage in any activity of her choice.
Tea Cake has a different view of women. He is the third husband of Janie. He believes that just like men, women can achieve their goals if given opportunity. He values Janie's personality and always wants to see her near. He feels a strong duty towards Janie and is ready to provide for her and love her. He represents the current males who believe that women have a place in society. Janie acquires the voice of her own after meeting Tea Cake. She understands that some people can respect and love women. Tea Cake has a name with more positive associations. When Janie first hears his name, she says, 'Tea Cake! So you sweet as all dat?' (Bloom 20). The name is synonymous with Janie's innocence. His marriage with her ends into happiness. Another aspect of characterization that is depicted in the novel is that of Mr. Turner. The author says that Mr. Turner turns against her own race (Neale 44).
Most of the characters speak in the black vernacular to celebrate African-American culture characterizing it as culturally specific. The way characters are depicted in the novel define who they are and what they stand for in the community. Normally, authors use characterization to make the story compelling. It gives readers a strong sense of characters' personalities and complexities. In 'Their Eyes Were Watching God,' the author makes characters vivid, alive, and believable. The appearance and the desire of most characters in the novel depicts a lot about them; what they believe and how they think.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. InfoBase Publishing, 2008.
Flores, Toni. "Claiming and Making: Ethnicity, Gender, and the Common Sense in Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God." Contemporary American Women Writers. Routledge, 2017. 114-127.
Neale, Zora. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Virago press limited, 2018.
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