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Their Eyes Were Watching God

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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

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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

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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 couple marries only to move to the Everglades. They move so that Tea Cake can find work planting and harvesting beans. One day, Tea Cake abuses Janie to show his power. While all relationships have their ups and downs, Janie now has the marriage with love that she has wanted. Eventually, Tea Cake is killed and she gives him a lavish funeral. However, she returns to Eatonville only to find the residents gossiping about her. (Curran 79)

Power is the possession of control or command over others; authority. (Webster) Power was the main theme that Janie faced in Their Eyes were Watching God. Throughout the novel she used her marriages to help her search for power. Later, Janie realizes that true power comes from within. Janie experienced different ways of control

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with her husbands. (Curran 85) One of her husbands used her to make him look like a better man while another used her as a "personal slave." Janie is controlled by the men in her life, but she has an unconscious control over these men that she's not aware of.(Curran 86) Janie doesn't realize that she possesses power over her husbands through her good looks. Janie is introduced to her first husband Logan Killocks through her grandmother, Nanny. Nanny insists that Janie marry Logan because he's wealthy. It seems that Logan's wealth gave him an authoritative advantage over Janie. Logan is aware of his advantage and abuses it during their relationship. Janie is an attractive woman but fails to realize it in her relationships. As things begin to worsen, Janie goes to Nanny for support, but Nanny criticizes her for not appreciating Logan's wealth. One day, Logan tells Janie that she will be using one of the mules to help on the land. He believes that he can control Janie by telling her how to behave. Janie continues to allow the abuse for some time. Eventually, Janie realizes that she has the control and power to end the marriage. She decides to run off with Joe Starks. When she leaves him, it shows that she possess some control over Logan.

Janie begins another relationship for all the wrong reasons. Joe Starks is an ambitious, smooth-talking man. He gains control early because he knows that Janie has just left a relationship and is vulnerable. (Bolden) In the beginning, Joe tells Janie all the things that Logan never did. One day he complimented her by saying, "A pretty doll- baby lak you is made to sit on de front porch and rock and fan yo self and eat p'taters dat




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