Their Eyes Were Watching God; Day 2

February 20, 2008 at 4:13 am | Posted in Their Eyes Were Watching God | 1 Comment
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theireyeswatchinggod1.jpgWednesday, February 20, 2008

Chapters 5-6

Chapter 5

On the train the next day, Joe didn’t make many speeches with rhymes to her, but he bought her the best things the butcher had, like apples and a glass lantern full of candies. Mostly he talked about plans for the town when he got there. They were bound to need somebody like him. Janie took a lot of looks at him and she was proud of what she saw. (34)

Chapter 5 establishes Janie and Jody’s new life together. The focus is both on the new community–you’ll notice just how big an influence Joe has on everyone–and on their relationship. Joe has a real go get ’em attitude. He wants something, he takes charge. He knows how to get things done. Right away, Joe makes plans for a store and a post office.

The town–the community–the folks–are at a loss of words when it comes to Joe. They’ve never seen anyone with that kind of attitude, that kind of determination, that kind of force. Some like it. Some don’t.

Us colored folks is too envious of one ‘nother. Dat’s how come us don’t git no further than us do. Us talks about de white man keepin’ us down! Shucks! He don’t have tuh. Us keeps our own selves down. (39)

Jealousy. Envy. Judgment. I think of these attributes when I think about this community. Perhaps as individuals they are so scared of trying, scared of living life to the fullest, that it is easier to sit back and judge those that do make the effort. Joe stands apart because he acts instead of talks. The others are all talk and no action. It’s all about talking big.

But enough of the community is behind Joe. Enough to make him the mayor. In just a brief span of time Joe’s dreams have all started to come true. And Janie, well she’s gone from being a nobody to a somebody. Or perhaps I should say being nothing to being something.

The first sign of strain we see in their relationship comes when the people ask her to make a speech in celebration of her husband becoming (being unanimously elected) mayor.

“Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home.”

Janie made her face laugh after a short pause, but it wasn’t too easy. She had never thought of making a speech, and didn’t know if she cared to make one at all. It must have been the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another that took the bloom off of things. But anyway, she went down the road behind him that night feeling cold. He strode along invested with his new dignity, thought and planned out loud, unconscious of her thoughts. (43)

But the better things go professionally and personally for Joe, the less and less Janie becomes to him. Maybe he always saw her as a possession. Now that I think about it, he was talking about himself and his goals in Georgia too where they first met. He’s always been ambitious, goal-oriented. He’s always had political and social dreams of grandeur. Of making the world over in his own way. He likes playing god in this small community.

But any man who walks in the way of power and property is bound to meet hate. So when speakers stood up when the occasion demanded and said “Our beloved Mayor,” it was one of those statements that everybody says but nobody actually believes like “God is everywhere.” It was just a handle to wind up the tongue with. (48)

Janie soon began to feel the impact of awe and envy against her sensibilities. The wife of the Mayor was not just another woman as she had supposed. She slept with authority and so she was part of it in the town mind. She couldn’t get but so close to most of them in spirit. (46)

So she becomes lonelier and lonelier.

Another of his weaknesses is his jealousy. I don’t know if this comes up in chapter five or six–things blend together after awhile–but folks notice Janie right off. All the guys see her and want her. Janie, I don’t believe, doesn’t really notice all the attention or pay much mind to all the attention. But Joe–sooner rather than later–is going to let it get to him. One of the signs? He makes his wife bind her hair up, keep her hair covered in public.

Chapter 6

Every morning the world flung itself over and exposed the town to the sun. So Janie had another day. And every day had a store in it, except Sundays. The store itself was a pleasant place if only she didn’t have to sell things. When the people sat around on the porch and passed around the pictures of their thoughts for the others to look at and see, it was nice. The fact that the thought pictures were always crayon enlargements of life made it even nicer to listen to. (51)

This chapter is one of my favorites. It doesn’t really move the plot forward that much, but it is so rich, so full of flavor, so vibrant, that I can’t help loving it. If this chapter has a theme, it’s that of the voice. It is so important to have a voice, to have a say, to be able to express yourself, to share. The favorite place within the community was the store? Why? Men and women (though mostly men) would gather and talk. They would talk and talk and talk. They would laugh, joke, play tricks, try to one up each other. It was a very social, very happening place. Storytelling was an important part of who they were. Janie, as we saw in chapter five, was denied that voice within the community. In chapter six, we see that Janie is still being kept silent. Whether this silence is imposed upon her by Joe or if she just doesn’t know how to find her voice without encouragement and support could be debated. But Joe is definitely not helping the matter any. Janie watches the men talk, she listens to their stories. She wants to be a part of it but can’t.

The mule. A lot of the stories told in this chapter center around the mule. You’ve got to remember that the mule has already played a symbolic role in the book, and it will continue to do so. [De n***** woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see. Ah been prayin’ fuh it tuh be different wid you. Lawd, Lawd, Lawd. (14)]

Janie takes a special interest in the mule. “Everybody indulged in mule talk. He was next to the mayor in prominence, and made better talking. Janie loved the conversation and sometimes she thought up good stories on the mule, but Joe had forbidden her to indulge. He didn’t want her talking after such trashy people.” (53-54)

While she enjoys some of the talk, she doesn’t like to see the mule be teased and abused. She has pity for the mule and wishes that everyone would leave him alone. “People ought to have some regard for helpless things.” But Joe wins back some respect in Janie’s eyes when he buys the mule and “saves” it. Janie isn’t the only one who thinks it’s noble that he bought it so it could rest from his work. Janie even compares him to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in a rare public speech.

The mule’s funeral. Janie isn’t allowed to go. I feel sorry that the buzzards are a part of the action. Eww.

Afterwards, Janie and Joe get into a bit of an argument, not a big argument, just a small glimpse of how their relationship stands now. Another glimpse of the real state of affairs is of Joe bossing her around the store. This isn’t going to win Joe any fans with the women as far as I can see.

“You sho loves to tell me whut to do, but Ah can’t tell you nothin’ Ah see!”

“Dat’s ’cause you need tellin’,” he rejoined hotly. “It would be pitiful if Ah didn’t. Somebody got to think for women and chillun and chicken and cows. I god, they sho don’t think none theirselves.”

“Ah knows uh few things, and womenfolks thinks sometimes too!”

“Aw naw they don’t. They just think they’s thinkin’. When Ah see one thing Ah understands ten. You see ten things and don’t understand one.”

Times and scenes like that put Janie to thinking about the inside state of her marriage. Time came when she fought back with her tongue as best she could, but it didn’t do her any good. It just made Joe do more. He wanted her submission and he’d keep on fighting until he felt he had it.

So gradually, she pressed her teeth together and learned to hush. The spirit of the marriage left the bedroom and took to living in the parlor. It was there to shake hands whenever company came to visit, but it never went back inside the bedroom again. So she put something in there to represent the spirit like a Virgin Mary image in a church. The bed was no longer a daisy-field for her and Joe to play in. It was a place where she went and laid down when she was sleepy and tired. (71)

The verbal abuse (perhaps mental as well???) does turn violent at times. After the first time he abuses her, she has a realization:

She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further. She had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where petals used to be. She found that she had a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about. Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never find them. She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them. (72)

I love that passage. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not glad that it took Jody’s abuse for her to begin to realize who she was and to really begin to “grow” up. But I’m glad she’s finding herself even if she can’t express that self to the world yet.

But Janie does get one small say in the community. She gets a brief moment to join in the talk. Joe doesn’t approve of course. But she does it anyway.

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  1. I continue to be amazed at Hurston’s writing. You can’t help but feel happy for the progress of the town in these chapters, but at the same time despise that it all comes from someone like Joe who holds so much power over these people…have they really broken away from living under “the white man”?

    Joe just irritates me to no end as I’m sure he does every reader. I loved it when Janie spoke up at the end of Chapter 6. She has quite the spark in her and I hope that she can keep it lit despite Joe’s effort to blow it out.


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