“And when she gained the privacy of her own little shack she stayed on her knees so long she forgot she was there herself. There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought. Nanny entered this infinity of conscious pain again on her old knees. Towards morning she muttered, ‘Lawd, you know mah heart. Ah done de best Ah could do. De rest is left to you.’ She scuffled up from her knees and fell heavily across the bed. A month later she was dead” (24).
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Collins, 1998.
Notes: Janie not constrained anymore by her mother’s wishes. free to leave her husband. Nanny did what she did because she does not want Janie to have a life like she had. Mind thoughts–making excuses. Security for Janie
‘…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.’
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: First Perennial Library edition, 1990
Note: loosing faith in those around us, realizing everyone says things they don’t mean.
Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times . So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1990), 2.
Notes: Even though what Janie’s neighbors were saying about Janie was cruel, the freedom with which they were able to speak their cruel remarks was beautiful. The line, “words walking without masters” implies also that the words themselves were walking on their own. The words were uninhibited; the neighbors, or “masters” of the cruel words being spoken, did not have control and were therefore not to be held accountable for the words.
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.” (1)
This is one of my favorite openings of any book. I think even putting the gender differences aside, comparing the way people react and handle their dreams is amazing and really shows how as humans we are all not alike. Some people’s dream lives are just handed to them, if they are lucky. Others need to wait, but most people need to work hard to make it happen. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing. What is interesting about the gender role is that in the time period of the book, if a woman wanted something for herself, she needed to work for it, nothing would have come easily to her except an unwanted marriage and multiple children. Men on the other hand were much more in-control of their lives and could afford to be less careful in their decisions.
Blossoming pear tree ~ “It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously…She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sign and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw the dust-baring bee sink into the sanctum of the bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love and embrace in the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage!” Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: First Perennial Classics, 1998. Print. (pg.10-11).
“It was a lonesome place like a stump in the middle of the woods where nobody had ever been. The house was absent of flavor, too. But anyhow Janie went on inside wait for love to begin” (pg. 21-22).
The contrast between the glorious bloom of adolescence and the lonely tree stump of marriage ~ a metaphor of lust and love. Janie is ruled by these feelings.
“janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the self 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 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 the 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 now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them.”
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990
Notes: This is the moment when Janie looks inside of her and realizes the marriage with Jody has been a farce. Jody was never the figure of her dreams, but instead just “something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over.” Janie was in love more with the idea of Jodie (ambitious businessmen) than actually Jodie himself. Jodie is a figure of escape for Janie, however, what ensues is a realization that the marriage has pushed her into a state of even greater repression.
“They know mo’ ’bout yuh than you do yo’self. An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done ‘heard’ ’bout you just what they hope done happen.” (5)
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York : Perennial, 1998. Print.
Notes: Jealousy can alter an event. The truth is not always what people want to hear/believe. People will make conclusions vs what really happen do it accommodates how they feel. Gap between what has happened and what people think happened.
They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song. “What she doin coming back here in dem overalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on? — Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?” (2).
Hurston, Z. N. (1937). Their eyes were watching god. (p. 2). New York: Harper Perennial.
Notes: The author provides a sharp contrast to the way the narrator describes the women and how they are talking about others (“burning statements”) and the way that the women actually speak (“dem overalls”). They speak in a dialect that at times can be difficult to understand and interpret, so the reader travels through the novel from being able to perfectly understand the narrator to having to switch to dialogue and work a bit harder to perfectly understand what is being said.
“It was a spring afternoon in West Florida. Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in theback-yard. She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree for the last three days. That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously. How? Why? It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again. What? How? Why? This singing she heard that had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her flesh. Now they emerged and quested about her consciousness.
She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid.
After a while she got up from where she was and went over the little garden field entire. She was seeking confirmation of the voice and vision, and everywhere she found and acknowledged answers. A personal answer for all other creations except herself. She felt an answer seeking her, but where? When? How? She found herself at the kitchen door and stumbled inside. In the air of the room were flies tumbling and singing, marrying and giving in marriage. When she reached the narrow hallway she was reminded that her grandmother was home with a sick headache. She was lying across the bed asleep so Janie tipped on out of the front door. Oh to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma’s house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made.”
-Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Ch. 2
NOTES: Colloquial/vernacular vs. formal narration; distinction between narrator and protagonist; symbolism of the pear tree; female sexuality, feminism, and gender roles; race relations and gender; sensory imagery; folklore and traditional symbols; anthropological background of imagery, esp. Southern black life/folklore
“The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day.
But nobody moved, nobody spoke, nobody even thought to swallow spit until after her gate slammed behind her.”
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990
Notes: Her beauty captivates them all (rope of black hair). Everyone observes her appearance, but males and females see different things (different perceptions of the same thing). She is already elevated as some exotic human “she might fall to their level someday.” This is the first big character description we read and it is told through the perspectives of other characters in the book. We are unable to subjectively see who she really is.