Their Eyes Were Watching God


The American Dream in and Their Eyes Were Watching God

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Since America’s formation, the meaning of the “American Dream” has changed vastly. One version of this prospect is shown in And Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel set in late 1800’s America. It follows Janie Starks, a mixed woman who is trying to find her own version of the American Dream. Janie attempts to pursue the American Dream by searching for true love and independence; even being set back due to race and gender, she ultimately achieves her goals.

Janie’s version of the American Dream is to be able to find a love in which she is able to freely and fully love someone. In the second chapter, Janie notices a bee pollinating a pear tree, and reacts to it with, “So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation.” She sees love as a mutual relationship in which both counterparts are able to put in equal effort and respect. This is further shown when she says in the next chapter, “But Nanny, Ah wants to want him sometimes. Ah don’t want him to do all de wantin’.” Her dream is finding a partner who she is on equal footing with, one who is able to see eye-to-eye with her and who loves her as a person.

Janie’s pursuit of the American Dream changes throughout the book. At first, she attempts to pursue it when, “Through pollinated air she saw a glorious being coming up the road. In her former blindness she had known him as shiftless Johnny Taylor, tall and lean. That was before the golden dust of pollen had beglamored his rags and her eyes.” She is ignorant to the fact that love is more than just finding someone to give affection and expecting them to see her in the same light. Throughout Janie’s experiences with her first two husbands, her hope of experiencing her idea of love is diminished by her husbands’ controlling and degrading natures. However, her method of pursuit changes once again when she meets Tea Cake. In chapter twelve, Janie states, “Tea Cake love me in blue, so Ah wears it. Jody ain’t never in his life picked out no color for me. De world picked out black and white for mournin’, Joe didn’t. So Ah wasn’t wearin’ it for him. Ah was wearin’ it for de rest of y’all.” Tea Cake, in a metaphorical sense, shows Janie a world of colors. One in which she has found someone who truly loves her and that she truly loves back. Therefore, she pursues Tea Cake instead by running away from her old life and into a new life where she has someone who respects her for who she is and treats her as an equal.

Some obstacles Janie faces in her pursuit of the American dream is encountering those who degrade people based on gender and race. In chapter five, when townspeople are gossiping about Janie, they wonder, “Whut make her keep her head tied up lak some ole ‘oman round de store? Nobody couldn’t Bit me tuh tie no rag on mah head if Ah had hair lak dat. Maybe he make her do it.” Throughout Janie and Jody’s relationship, the author makes it clear that Jody expects her to be silent and obedient due to her being a woman. The fact that he makes her tie up her hair is reminiscent of this fact, as her tying up her hair symbolizes her loss of freedom due to Jody’s desire to keep up her respectful and proper image as a woman. Also, Janie experiences blunt racism from Mrs. Tucker, a white woman who expresses her contempt for African-Americans with, “Ah jus’ couldn’t see mahself married to no black man. It’s too many black folks already. We oughta lighten up de race.” She then goes on to say Janie should marry her light-skinned brother due to Janie’s Caucasian features. This personally affects Janie not only because it insults her partially African-American heritage, but also because her husband, Tea Cake, is significantly more dark-skinned, and Mrs. Tucker’s words are a direct insult to him. These obstacles serve as a representation of something all women and people of color experienced at the time.

Janie succeeds in finding the American Dream in the sense she finds true love and eventual peace in independence. At the end of chapter thirteen, Janie realizes she has found happiness in love with, “He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.” She is finally able to open herself up to Tea Cake and love him, as he doesn’t make her stand beneath her, but stands beside her as a partner. This is what Janie dreamt of for so long, a relationship in which mutual respect and effort was given. This is where Janie finds her independence as well, in a partner that allowed her to be herself. She is also able to find joy in her independence at the end of the book. The final chapter states, “The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace.” Janie is at peace even after Tea Cake’s passing due to the fact she was able to successfully find her own version of the American Dream, which was her ability to express herself with Tea Cake, and truly and fully love him.

While it is a long and grueling process, Janie finds her own version of true love and independence. This truly expresses the idea of the American Dream by showing that despite major setbacks someone might experience, it is still possible to push through struggles to a brighter future. This serves as a reminder to we Americans that we are able to do the exact same—that the true American Dream is the ability to make a life for yourself, and to be yourself while doing so.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God: a Novel Based on Real Events

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Hurston Discussion Board

Zora Neal Hurston incorporated many of her real life experiences into her masterful work Their Eyes Were Watching God. Many instances of overlap from Hurston’s life into her novel were revealed through research into her biography. Hurston was headstrong and determined just as Janie was throughout the novel. Three notable similarities between Hurston and her novel were that she lived in Eatonville, Florida, she lost her mother at a young age, and she possessed youthful, infectious good looks.

A large portion of Their Eyes Were Watching God took place in Eatonville, Florida, where Hurston spent much of her childhood. Eatonville was the first self-governing all black town in the United States and Hurston moved there when she was just a toddler. Black citizens got to decide much of how the town came together and was run, and both Janie and Hurston had someone close to them who played a part in the building of Eatonville. Janie witnessed her husband’s influence on the town while Hurston witnessed her father’s. Hurston described the erection of Eatonville in her novel and Janie’s time spent there and by doing so, connected it to her own history and experiences.

Janie lost contact with her mother early in life, saying “she was gone from round dere long before Ah wuz big enough tuh know” (Hurston 10). Janie’s mother did not pass away, but apparently disappeared after a traumatic Janie’s grandmother tells her about. Hurston lost her mother in real life as well at the young age of thirteen. As Hurston experienced a life without her mother, so did Janie in her novel. This similarity is a saddening one, but it shows more correlation between Hurston’s real life and the ones she wrote down.

One last notable similarity between Hurston and Their Eyes Were Watching God is the possession of striking good looks held by her main character and Hurston herself. Janie’s looks were regarded repeatedly throughout the novel. In one instance it was said of Janie, “The men noticed her firm buttocks…the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume…her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt” (Hurston 2-3). Throughout all stages of Janie’s life, she remained an object of fascination and beauty. Hurston also possessed notable good looks herself. In fact, in order to qualify for free public schooling, Hurston, at the age of 26, subtracted ten years from her birthdate and passed as a decade younger than she was for the remainder of her life. Photographs of Hurston show that she indeed was beautiful, just as Janie was in her novel.


Love was one of the most prominent themes in Janie’s life. Her early life begins wrapped in her grandmother’s fierce love which eventually leads to her first marriage. Janie searches for love within her first marriage, but unable to find it she resolves to run away with her second husband, Joe. Her marriage with Joe did not result in the love she thought it would bring. Joe’s treatment of Janie squandered any hope of love the two could have shortly after their wedding. With Joe’s passing, however, Janie did begin to love and respect herself. It was only with Tea Cake that she experienced the love she had been searching for her whole life. It was in Janie’s third marriage that she was happiest and most content, and even with Tea Cake’s passing Janie continued to live on the with hope and peace that her love with Tea Cake had brought her.

Loss of Identity

Janie did not know it when she ran away with Joe, but when she signed the marriage papers she also signed away her identity. Throughout her years with Joe, he stripped away countless pieces of her identity. She was no longer herself, but Joe’s trophy wife. He wanted her on a pedestal for everyone in the town to look at. She was to be envied, not interacted with. Joe began this attack on Janie’s identity by telling her to wrap her trademark feature away, her hair. He then began limiting the activities she could participate in and the people she could interact with. She was just an object to Joe. Her mind held no value to him. Even as Joe was on his deathbed, Janie exclaimed, “You done lived wid me for twenty years and you don’t half know me atall” (Hurston 102). The gradual loss of identity and abuse Janie endured was hard to read. It was redeeming to see Janie reclaim her identity with Tea Cake.

Growth and Change

Janie experiences many changes throughout her story and by the end of the novel is a very different person from the 16-year-old girl to whom we were first introduced. For the majority of Janie’s life, she was under someone’s rule. Whether it be her Nanny, Logan Killicks, or Joe Stark, Janie lived largely in submission. After Joe’s death, Janie experienced a strange freedom that she had never known. She reveled in her freedom and the newfound loneliness that she enjoyed. This growth allowed her to open up to Tea Cake and his love for her. She was able to push past much of the abuse Logan and Joe had put her through and live a new life. Janie changes for the better and learns to truly accept herself.

Mental Abuse

Janie’s marriage with Joe was the most hurtful relationship she endured. Joe constantly berated her, put her down, and insulted her. His words knew no bounds- especially in the presence of others. Joe would spitefully comment on Janie’s appearance or actions in front of others in order to push attention away from himself. His sexist attitude prevented Janie from doing countless things she wanted too. He was also jealous of Janie to the point he would not tolerate her wearing her hair down. Within her marriage to Joe, Janie’s spirit wilted and grew dusty. When Joe slapped Janie the first time, “something fell off the shelf inside her…it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams.” Janie suffered Joe’s mental, emotional, and physical abuse for 20 years, and even during the cold sweat of death he continued to fight her. It was only after Joe’s death and Janie’s budding relationship with Tea Cake that she began to shed the burden of Joe’s abuse.

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A Connection of Their Eyes Were Watching God with Bible

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer


Their eyes were watching is a story of Janie Crawford such for love. As told in the form of frame, Janie makes a return journey to her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, after being absent for nearly two years. Her neighbors are eager to know where she had been and what has occurred to her. They are shocked to see her come back in dirty overalls when she left in clean bridal satin. Janie narrates her story to Phoebe Watson and after the story is over, the novelist returns back to Janie’s back steps. Hence the story which in reality spans for almost forty years in Janie’s being is ‘framed’ by a sunset visit involving two friends.

Phoebe Watson is Janie’s greatest friend and confidante. The whole book is a description of Janie’s life narrative, as told by Phoebe. Janie adores Phoebe for her unbolt ear and her non hypocritical attitude. She is actually the channel Janie needs to expel her feelings regarding Joe Starks, marriage and tea cake. Phoebe defends Janie’s behavior and takes a contemporary standpoint- that Janie is her lady and has a firm ground behind all her deeds. As a friend, Phoebe’s loyalty is moving and manipulates to readers to perceive Janie in a positive light.

Phoebe is compared to characters in the bible, both in the New Testament and the Old Testament. For instance, Phoebe is seen as a companion to Janie Crawford. Phoebe’s lone purpose in Hurston’s story is to act as a confidante to Janie. She is the compassionate ear to which Janie is able to pour her entire feelings and emotions into. Phoebe’s motive is totally unselfish. She is inaudibly certain that Janie will talk to her and clarify what took place during the past one year and a half. Phoebe welcomes her pal with the gift of foodstuff. Janie tells Phoebe that Tea Cake did not run off with the cash that Joe left her. She further tells Phoebe that the money is safe in the bank and that Tea Cake had died. Janie then informs Phoebe about the months she had spent with Tea Cake. All these happen after Janie has had enough resting and soothing of feet. (Hurston 6). Phoebe’s actions toward Janie are a clear indication of how she is the best companion for Janie after her comeback given that she was away for one and a half years. Phoebe can be compared with Mary in the bible, the virgin mother of Jesus and then wife of Joseph. Mary humbles herself and accepts to be a companion to Joseph despite all the public humiliation and danger that would follow. Mary accepts to be married to a carpenter who was seen to be a poor man. This clearly defines how Mary is humbled and a true companion to Joseph. (Mathew 1)

In addition, Phoebe is compared with Moses in the bible since they both come out to be compassionate and mediators between two people. In the narrative, Phoebe defends Janie to the porch sitters. She definitely believes that Janie does not have to share any of her private dealings with them. She makes an assumption that Janie is hungry and thereafter she volunteers to find Janie a port of mullet rice. She then finds her way through the darkness to Janie’s back steps. (Hurston 7). By comparison, Moses is seen as a hesitant redeemer of Israel in it migration from oppression to the Promised Land. Moses is seen as the mediator between Israel and the people, transforming the Israelites from a demoralized ethnic cluster into a land founded on spiritual laws. His celebrated miracles before pharaoh make him a great conqueror of the Old Testament.

Moreover, Phoebe is seen to be rational. She acts as a legal voice of rationale, presenting all of community’s norms not in a negative critical light but as they were supposed to be balanced prescriptions to keep women out of danger. Phoebe stood up sharply so as to protect Janie from those who were forcing her to narrate what had happened to her while she was away. Phoebe insisted that it was not their business to know Janie’s private affairs. (Hurston 6)Her reasoning was tending to present the society’s norms that go around protecting women from danger. In the bible Abraham is also seen to be rational. He is presenting the beliefs of the society as per the ancient days. Abraham practices the monotheistic adoration of God and he has a strong faith in his creator despite the many challenges he is facing. His faith sets the pattern for the Israelites religious view of righteousness.

On the other hand, Phoebe is identified to be non judgmental. She gives Janie a benefit of doubt at the time when the townspeople are gossiping fiercely about Janie. She becomes an audience to Janie’s story and her being there is irregularly felt in the informal speech that the narrator mixes in with a more complicated narrative style. Phoebe is also the channel Janie needs to expel her emotions and feelings about Joe Starks, marriage and Tea Cake. Unlike much of Eatonville, she defends Janie and takes a very contemporary stand. In the bible, Job remains truthful to God even with all the suffering he is undergoing. The topic of God and Satan’s immense experiment is to determine human faithfulness to God amidst of intense pain. Job scorns poor nutrition and the recommendations of his friend’s instead of questioning God’s role in human suffering. Job hesitates to make a final judgment on God since he has a strong faith on him. This clearly compares him to Phoebe in the story their eyes were watching God.

Another trait that is comparable to a trait in the bible is curiosity. According to the story their eyes were watching, (Hurston 10) Phoebe is eagerly waiting to listen to Janie’s story concerning her past.

They sat there in the fresh young darkness close together. Phoebe eager to feel and do through Janie, But hating to show her zest for fear it might be thought mere curiosity. Janie full of that oldest human longing self revelation, Phoebe held her tongue for time but she couldn’t help moving her feet

Phoebe’s curiosity makes learn that Tea Cake had died. She is even more curious to know why Tea Cake died. In the bible story, Eve became curious to know the Kind of fruit they were prohibited from eating. Satan in the form of a snake appeared to Eve and urged her to try the forbidden fruit. Satan convinced Eve that upon eating the fruit, they would become as wise as God. Due to curiosity, Eve went ahead and consumed the forbidden fruit. Eve also went and convinced Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. Eventually, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. All these actions were out of curiosity. They therefore had to face the consequences of being disobedient to God.

Phoebe is also seen to be very ambitious. At the end of the novel, Phoebe tells us that the story of Janie has made her grow ten taller and encouraged her to go fishing. Due to responsibilities of marriage, Phoebe is not able venture the way Janie does. Phoebe represents the audience; just as Janie tell her story to Phoebe. Hurston, through Phoebe expresses her desire for the readers of the story to be mobilized into action through Janie’s story the same way Phoebe has been. In the bible, David is identified to be as ambitious as well. His is known for facing the giant Goliath and bringing him down with a sling and a stone. He is remembered for showing a high level of ambitions by writing several psalms. His ambitions enable him to be recognized as one of the most prominent kings of Israel, one of the greatest men who ever came into being. David also had an ambition to bring the Arc of Covenant to the capital of Jerusalem. The Arc of Covenant was Gods symbol in Israel. It had been long awaited for. When David brings it to Jerusalem, he achieves his ambition of unifying religious and political life of Israel in the Promised Land.

Another comparison between Phoebe and the characters in the bible is based on the act of caring for each other. Phoebe really shows a great concern when Janie arrives after one and a half year of disappearance. Phoebe ensures that she goes to get Janie something for her stomach.(Hurston 7) She does it hurriedly having in mind Janie’s situation.

Phoebe hurried on off with an enclosed bowl on her hands. She left the verandah pelting her back with unasked questions. They hoped the answers were harsh and strange. When she arrived at the place, Phoebe didn’t go in by the front entry and down the palm walk to the front entrance. She went around the hedge corner and went in the closed gate with a plate full of mullet rice.

In the bible, God is noted as the most caring being. He is the creator of the world and the most powerful being. According to the bible, God cares for his creation by offering protection to human beings. In the Old Testament, God intervened to those who believed in him during wars and times of difficulties. He manifested himself in the form of an angel, fire, wrestler and a silent whisper. God also cared for his people during hunger. He provides for the Israelites by providing manner and water when they were starving. As the figurehead of the Israelites and force behind every event, God reveals his plans by speaking to the people. His physical manifestations are not direct. We are reminded that the Lord is our shepherd for we shall not want. (Psalm 23)

Phoebe Is Janie’s best friend in Eatonville. Phoebe tries to understand Janie’s situation at the time when every member of the town is seriously gossiping about her. Phoebe pays keen attention to Janie’s story. This is evident in the colloquial speech that the narrator mixes with the complicated narrative styles. (Hurston 7). According to the bible, Jesus had a very close friend who was among his disciples. Jesus and the disciple John were essentially best friends. Jesus entrusted him with the care of his mother. He also gave John the apparition of transfiguration and allowed him to watch his wonderful miracles. Jesus later on gave John the book of revelation. It is only the gospel of John that mentions the disciple whom Jesus loved. This clearly indicates how much Jesus and John were great friends. Apostle John is seen to be the longest living disciple according to the early church doctrine in the bible. This to Some extent may also show us how much Jesus and John were great friends.

Furthermore, Phoebe is seen as a very reasonable being. She makes good reasoning at the time when Janie comes back in a dirty overall. Phoebe ensures that Janie is not humiliated by the public at the time she arrives. She defends Janie by telling the crowd that it is none of their business trying to find out what took place to Janie at the time when she was away. Janie goes round with a heaped plate of mullet rice looking for Janie. After she finds her, Janie eats as she gives her audience. It would be very unreasonable for Janie to be left eating alone without any company. Phoebe at least tries to make Janie comfortable at the place. She allows Janie to clean herself and have soothing of foot before taking supper. This shows how much Phoebe is reasonable regarding Janie’s situation. In the bible, Noah is also seen to be very reasonable enough. He builds an arc to save the animal population and human race from destruction. He initially makes a decision to inform the human race about the coming rains that would cause floods. Noah therefore forms the first attempt of God to form a covenant with one person through him.

Phoebe can be identified to be very unselfish according to the story their eyes were watching God. She shows this by giving a warm welcome to Janie when she comes back home after Tea Cakes death. Phoebe takes the whole responsibility of preparing food for Janie. This is a clear indication that Phoebe is very generous and understands every person’s situation. According to the bible, Abraham comes out to be very unselfish. This is shown when he offers to sacrifice his only son Isaac as asked by God. He tricks his son and finally he reaches the alter where he is to sacrifice his only son. He attempts to carry out a procedure that many people cannot afford to do. Abraham is stopped by an angel of God upon lifting the knife to sacrifice his only son. This is also a clear indication of how strong Abraham’s faith was.

On the other hand, the story brings Phoebe out as very irresponsible. She cannot get married since she fears the responsibility associated with marriage. This shows us that she is not ready for any responsibility relating to family affairs. The author informs us that Phoebe cannot afford to be married as Janie since she fears responsibility. According to the bible, David comes out to be very irresponsible at the time when he was the king. He sleeps with Bathsheba who was already married. This according to the bible is considered to be adultery. The end result of King David’s act led to the birth of Solomon who also later becomes a very wise and successful king.

Phoebe can also be said to be very interactive. She talks a lot with those who are trying to humiliate Janie at the time when she is back after Tea Cakes death. She interacts fully with the people and warns them against humiliating Phoebe who came back in a dirty overall. (Hurston 7). Phoebe also participates when Janie is narrating her story to her. This is evident by the occasional colloquial expressions shown by the author in between other aspects of literature. Phoebe’s interaction with Janie enables her to know what Janie went through during her disappearance period. (Hurston 8). In the bible, Job is also seen to be very interactive. He interacts with the devil, God and his friends. During the time that Job was being put into temptation, he interacted with the devil that was encouraging him to curse God. The devil informed him that his god was so uncaring and that was the reason behind his suffering. His friends too interacted with him while giving him their pieces of advice. Job also interacted with God while asking him the reason why he had to undergo such suffering. This clearly shows how much Job was interactive. Therefore, Phoebe and Job are seen to have one character trait in common.

Finally, Phoebe is described to be intelligent. This is because she is able to remember the narration she was told by Janie. She there after narrates the whole story of Janie’s life. This indicates her level of remembering events and happenings. Phoebe is intelligent enough to make wise decision when Janie arrives. She saves her from public humiliation and hunger. In the bible, God is identified to be the most intelligent of all beings. It is because of his intelligence that he created the world in a uniform way out of a deformed figure. God’s intelligence is also seen when He advices Noah to build an arc at the time when God destroyed the earth. God’s intelligence is also evident in the bible when He sent His son Jesus to save the world from sins. He sent his son who was to shed blood so as to save the world from satanic ways. God also sent manner and water to the Israelites to save them from hunger. It is because of His intelligence that He them a leader who was to help them come out of captivity into the Promised Land. In the bible, God created the world in an orderly manner and to perfection. He created different things on different specific days and had one day to rest. It is because of His intelligence that he allocated six working days to man and one day of resting. Therefore God is generally said to be the source of intelligence on earth. No any other creature can reach His intelligence since He is also the giver

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The Importance of Janie’s Tea Cake in Zora Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

Their Eyes Were Watching God

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, the main character, Janie, undergoes multiple bad relationships. Tea Cake, her third, and presumably last husband, treats her how she wants to be treated and provides her with a relationship she values. Tea Cake releases her from the feeling of confinement that Joe Starks and Logan Killicks have left her with. He frees Janie and helps her live a life she enjoys.

Logan Killicks tried to convince Janie that she would not be of value to anyone else, and that he was the best one for her. After Joe arrived and convinced Janie otherwise, he put her in a position she didn’t want to be in. He convinced her that she was above the other people in the community, while she only wanted to be seen as equal to her husband. When Joe doesn’t allow her to give her speech, she realizes that he won’t allow her to do many of the things that he or the other citizens of Eatonville do. He buys her nice things that she feels she doesn’t need, and creates a void in their relationship by not communicating or seeming to care about what she wants.

I believe that Joe’s death partially frees Janie from the life she lived. She enjoys herself, and does what she wants to, instead of what Joe wants her to do. Between the high standards and ridicule from the other citizens, and the waves of persistent men wanting to marry Janie, she still feels the influence of everyone’s idea of how she should be. Phoebe often mentions to Janie how the others disagree with her behavior. Janie only becomes completely comfortable with this after she meets Tea Cake.

Tea Cake treats Janie unlike Logan or Joe did. He listens to Janie and tries to provide her with what she wants, rather than telling her how to behave. Their relationship teaches Janie that she shouldn’t care what others think of her and Tea Cake. Janie and Tea Cake are more like close friends than just husband and wife. Janie gets to know Tea Cake, and Tea Cake gets to know Janie, which is something she wished she had been able to do with Joe. She feels like she has an actual relationship with her husband.

Excluding the time right before his death, Tea Cake loved Janie, and was more than willing to do the best for her. She learns to live how she wants to, to have fun, and to take her own opinions of herself over the opinions of others. In this way, Tea Cake sets Janie free.

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Analysis of Zora Neale Hurston’s Book, Their Eyes Were Watching God In reference To the Character of Jane

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

Love is Worth Fighting For

Love is something that everyone wants to achieve at some point in their life. In the fictional novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, written by Zora Neale Hurston, love is exactly what Janie, the main character, wants. This book is set in the early 1900s and describes the story of a woman named Janie, who is on the hunt for love. She runs into many obstacles in her three relationships with Logan, Jody, and Tea Cake. She struggles in her relationships until she meets Tea Cake, where her journey comes to an end. Overall, this heroic journey that Janie is on, is all for love. To Janie, and many others, love is worth fighting for.

The Call: There is always something that motivates a person to begin their journey. In regards to Janie, her motivation is the pear tree. When Janie was sixteen years old, she would sit under this pear tree and conjure up her idea of what love is, and what kind of love she wants in life, while doing this Hurston says “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” (11). As she sat under this tree, it was almost like it was sending her a message to find a love that was pure, and after that moment she spent there, she wouldn’t stop until she found it. Janie left her first marriage with Logan for Joe to see if she could experience love with him, and she left with Tea Cake to see where their relationship could go. Janie was willing to do anything for love, and it all falls back on the pear tree.

Allies: Going through life without a friend who supports you in everything you do, is hard. Thankfully, Janie had someone there to help her get through the obstacles in her love life, and her name was Phoebe. She was the only person who understood Janie, and didn’t judge her. She wanted what was best for her, and didn’t want Janie to be hurt. When Janie finishes her story, Phoebe explains “Ah done growed teen feet higher from jus’ listening tuh you, Janie. Ah ain’t satisfied wid mahself no mo’. . . Nobody better not criticize yuh in mah hearin” (192). . She supported her and helped her get through it. Phoebe wouldn’t let anyone hurt Janie now that she knew the truth. She never held Janie back from experiencing everything she ever could in life. She supported her through thick and thin, and that definitely makes Phoebe an ally.

The Preparation: You can’t run a marathon without preparing for it. You need a test-run, and to prepare for the real thing. You have to experience it first, because your first attempt is never perfect. When Janie sat under that pear tree and created her own idea of love, she immediately shared her first kiss with Johnny Taylor. After her experience under the tree, she saw people differently through her own eyes. For example, “Through pollinated air she saw a glorious being coming up the road. In her former blindness, she had known him as shiftless Johnny Taylor, tall and lean. That was before the golden dust of pollen had beglamored his rags and her eyes” (12). In this moment, she realized that she needs to start seeing people for who they truly are. She had to start her expedition now and build up enough courage to succeed, and this is where she prepared for the long journey ahead.

Guardian of the Threshold: Life in the early 1900’s was difficult for colored people, and even worse as a woman. Janie’s grandmother, also known as Nanny, had Janie’s life planned out. Nanny didn’t live the easiest life as a black woman, she was a slave and never had a normal life, or any money to rely on. She wants Janie to marry a man with money, even if there is no love in the relationship. That is the opposite of what Janie wants. Nanny forces Janie to marry Logan Killicks, a man who owns many acres. Janie feels nothing for him, and only marries him to make Nanny happy. Logan is not what Janie imagined under the pear tree, it was even mentioned that “The vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree, but Janie didn’t know how to tell Nanny that” (14). Nanny was holding Janie back from her dream, and she stopped Janie from doing many things. For example, when Janie kissed Johnny Taylor, Nanny was furious. That isn’t what she wanted for Janie, but Janie doesn’t care about how much money a person has, and what they can provide her. All she wanted from a relationship was love, nothing else.

Crossing the Threshold: When you are on a mission, you have to get to the point where it actually begins, it could take days, months, or even years. Her first marriage was to Logan Killicks, she thought that maybe her love would come for him eventually, but it never did. She married him because she was following Nanny’s rules. He wanted her to work, but she didn’t think that work suited her very well. When Joe came to the city where Logan and Janie worked, everything changed. Janie ended up running off with him, to see if she could experience actual love. Janie’s idea of marriage changed, “She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman” (25). Leaving Logan is where Janie’s journey began. She thought that running off with Joe was the best thing possible for her. Everything comes to an end at some point.

Road of Trials: Every couple experiences problems in their relationships, Janie being one of them. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie had her ups and downs with three men, Logan, Jody, and Tea Cake. Logan wanted Janie to work, which is not what she wanted to do, Jody treated her like a trophy wife, and there was no actual love there, and though her relationship with Tea Cake seemed perfect, they had difficulties. Janie had to fight through the fact that Tea Cake might be with her for the money, it might not have been true, but she had to listen to the whole town criticize their relationship. No relationship is perfect, but it can always improve in some cases.

Logan and Janie’s relationship was complicated. Janie never loved him, and she realized that she never would. For example, “Cause you [Nanny] told me Ah mus gointer love him [Logan], and, and Ah don’t. Maybe if somebody was to tell me how, Ah could do it” (23). Janie didn’t even know how to love him, she couldn’t see past the old man that he was on the outside. Also, Logan wanted Janie to work in the fields with him since he owned many acres. Logan didn’t understand that working isn’t what Janie wanted, he told her “If Ah kin haul de wood heah and chop it fuh yuh, look lak you oughta be able tuh tote it inside. Mah first wife never bothered me ‘bout choppin’ no wood nohow. She’d grab dat ax and sling chips lak uh man. You done been spoilt rotten” (26). Logan criticized her for not working, and compared her to his first wife. To Logan, it was normal for woman to work. But, under the pear tree, Janie imagined a relationship where she could stay home and relax while the man worked and brought home the money. That was almost every normal relationship back then. Everyone has a different opinion.

Janie expected a perfect relationship when she left with Joe, he made her feel amazing in the beginning of their relationship. When Joe became mayor, things started changing. He felt the rush of power and started to turn into a different person. He would never let her speak, she was told to sit and look pretty. An example of that, is when Jody is speaking in front of the town of Eatonville before the lighting of the street lamp. He finishes up his speech, and the crowd asks to hear Janie speak. Jody turns their request down, and doesn’t let her speak. Janie feels like her opinion doesn’t matter. She is extremely hurt by this and doesn’t appreciate it at all. Throughout their relationship, he continues to do things like this. She can’t wear her hair down because he doesn’t like other men touching it, and she isn’t allowed to play checkers because she is a woman. Their relationship was ruined, and there was no coming back. Joe ruined it, and didn’t care one bit. If your wife is happy that you died, that sends a very important message. Power can change a man.

Tea Cake is where Janie hit the jackpot, but there are still problems. Dating a younger man sends a confusing message to others. People believed that Tea Cake was after money, and he would never actually love her. Janie had to trust her gut on this one and believe the love she had for Tea Cake was genuine. When Janie speaks with Phoebe, she hears things that she doesn’t want to hear. Phoebe says “But anyhow, Janie, you be keerful ‘bout dis sellin’ out and goin’ off wid strange men. Look whut happened tuh Annie Tyler. Took whut little she had and went off tuh Tampa wid dat boy dey call Who Flung. It’s somethin’ tuh think about” (114). Phoebe was putting thoughts into Janie’s head. When Janie woke up one morning after they left for Florida, and she found that Tea Cake was gone, and so was her money she jumped to conclusions because of what people had told her. She was furious with Tea Cake, she was never able to fully trust him till she was sure that it was true love. Other people’s opinions can actually change your way of thought.

Janie faced problems in all of her relationships, and she was only able to fight through it in one of them, the one where there was actually love between the two. She couldn’t work with Logan because she didn’t love him enough to do that for him, she couldn’t deal with Jody’s rules because he controlled her and sucked every bit of love for him out of her. Janie couldn’t be in a relationship that only made the other person happy, she needed happiness also. Janie is thankful to have finally found her one true love.

The Saving Experience: Though Janie never felt the tragedy of Joe dying, it still affected her in other ways. She was forced to wear black to satisfy the town, and pretend she was sad. The black she wore seemed to represent her sadness of all the misery she lived with Joe more than it did his death. Thankfully, Tea Cake came into the picture. He made her feel amazing, and she fell for him instantaneously. He didn’t hold her back from anything, and he truthfully saved her from misery. Before him, she wouldn’t be allowed to do anything that Joe wouldn’t have allowed her to do. One example, is when Tea Cake and her first met in the store. “He [Tea Cake] set it [checkers] up and began to show her and she found herself glowing inside. Somebody wanted her to play. Somebody thought it natural for her to play. That was even nice. She looked him over and got little thrills from every one of his good points” (96). Janie has never felt like this around someone, he brought out the best in her. He saved her from the terrible memories with Joe. He made everything she remembered with Joe, move out of her mind, and inserted the good memories with himself. Tea Cake brought Janie happiness she couldn’t have ever imagined having.

The Transformation: Throughout the entire novel, Janie changes in many different ways. She sees love in a completely new way now. Janie had a lot of experience with relationships, and it transformed her way of thinking. She knew what love truly was when she went off with Tea Cake. She changed both mentally and physically. She could wear her hair down, she smiled more, and she knew how to actually love a person for who they really are. She changed after leaving with Tea Cake, he taught her many things. While speaking with Phoebe she says, “Ah’m older than Tea Cake, yes. But he done showed me where its de thought dat makes de difference in ages. If people thinks de same they can make it all right. So in the beginnin’ new thoughts had tuh be thought and new words said. After Ah got used tuh dat, we gits ‘long jus’ fine. He done taught me de maiden language all over” (115). The age difference no longer affected Janie, she didn’t care what people thought. When she got over the fact that there was a big age difference, she was able to love. She was now able to look past everything that was being said, and have fun. She had no Jody to worry about, no Nanny to tell her to marry a ‘rich’ man. She was free and happy now, she transformed for the best.

The Return: When people work so hard for something, it makes you look at things differently. People realize what they have been waiting for, for so long. In Janie’s case, when she returns back to Eatonville after Tea Cake dies, she realizes something. She experienced the love that she always wanted, and she couldn’t ask for anything better. She got what she wanted, her journey is completed, and she has accomplished her lifetime goal. Similarly, when she finishes telling Phoebe her story, she expresses her feelings by saying “Now, dat’s how everything was, Phoebe, jus’ lak Ah told yuh. So Ah’m back home agin and Ah’m satisfied tuh be heah. Ah done been tuh de horizon and back and now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons. Dis house ain’t so absent of things lak it used tuh be befo’ Tea Cake came along” (191). Janie can live the rest of her life in peace knowing that she succeeded, if she were to die right there, she would die filled with happiness. Her house isn’t filled with terrible memories of Joe anymore, all she sees is Tea Cake in the kitchen, in the bedroom, or in the parlor, and it’s a good feeling. Everything is different now, she never has to live in vain and can live knowing what she saw under the pear tree actually happened to her. Janie returned to Eatonville a changed woman.

Sharing the Gift: Janie had to tell someone her experiences with love, and she decides to do that with Phoebe. She shared her gift by telling her story to Phoebe. Janie had a happily ever after, and gained a lot through her journey. She found out what was right, and what was wrong. She shared her experience, information, and understanding on love. Phoebe looked at her very differently now, but it was for the better. She appreciated Janie telling her the truth, Phoebe wants what is best for Janie. Sharing her story was a brave thing for Janie to do, she had to re-experience all the terrible and happy moments in her life, and she most likely struggled. Overall, Janie fought for love, and won in the end.

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The Rise to Motherhood in Larsen’s Passing

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

Throughout much of Nella Larsen’s Passing, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry are portrayed as polar opposites. Though they both occupy the role of a young African-American mother living during the prosperous 1920s, they define that role in intensely different ways. Clare is a vivacious, wild woman who rejects her “people” in favor of freedom and glamour, whereas her good childhood friend Irene is more subdued and tries to act proud of her racial background for the sake of her family. Their differences ultimately manifest in their approaches to motherhood, and much of the novel revolves around the choices they make with regards to racial passing and parenting. Maternity is central to the racial passing experiences of both Irene and Clare, because Larsen is suggesting that mothers are responsible for carrying on the honor of the race that they belong to. Clare’s attitude towards her racial passing and Irene’s beliefs against it are each shaped and affected subsequently by the ways they view themselves as mothers, and it is this friction that drives the narrative towards its inevitable tragic conclusion.

The importance of the maternal figure is established early on in the novel, beginning with the free spirited Clare Kendry. Her own origins are tense and dramatic, with her “drunken father, a tall, powerfully built man” (p. 143) often asserting his masculine dominance over her. The lack of Clare’s own mother – a Negro girl, who as “they say, would have run away if she hadn’t died” (p. 153) – would later prove to be detrimental to Clare’s development. After the death of her father leaves her orphaned and without anyone to help her deal with her interracial heritage, Clare continues to evolve into an emotional roller coaster, something Irene remembers more clearly while she scrutinizes Clare’s character: “Sometimes she was hard and apparently without feeling at all; sometimes she was affectionate and rashly impulsive” (p. 144-145). Without a mother to properly nurture her feelings and sensibilities, Clare chooses to rebel against all expectations of her black race by passing for a white woman in order to compensate for her troubled childhood.

In addition to lacking a nurturing mother, Clare is left under the care of her father’s sisters, considerably the biggest influences behind Clare’s passing. Her aunts serve as substitute maternal figures for Clare, and they basically teach her to ignore the ancestry of her biological mother. “For all their Bibles and praying and ranting about honesty, they didn’t want anyone to know that their darling brother had seduced…a Negro girl. […] They forbade me to mention Negroes to the neighbours, or even to mention the south side. You may be sure that I didn’t,” Clare explains to Irene while discussing her life with her aunts (p. 159). These women essentially condition Clare to deny the existence of her Negro blood, and with nobody else around to show her how to be proud of the African American race, Clare rejects her heritage and readily slips into the persona of a pure white woman.

When Clare becomes a mother herself, she earnestly continues to pass as white and this leads to her neglecting even her own child. Throughout Larsen’s novel, Irene points out to Clare that she must remember the well-being of her daughter Margery. Clare laments over the prospect of leaving New York, and even when Irene reminds her about Margery, Clare is still daunted that she cannot stay and mingle with the rest of the Harlem society. “Children aren’t everything… There are other things in the world, though I admit some people don’t seem to suspect it,” Clare complains (p. 210). Clare obviously admires the glamour of her white appearance, and to be reminded by her child that she still carries (and has passed on) Negro blood would set her back. Coupled with her husband John Bellew’s adamant rule that there be “no niggers in my family” (p. 171), Clare cannot be a good mother to her child without admitting to her true nature. She understands that within the white race, there is an expectation that the pure white blood will carry on in future generations. Rather than nurturing her child to atone for her own mother’s absence, Clare continues the cycle by making herself as unavailable as she can for her daughter. With Margery around, Clare cannot be as vibrant and as exuberant as she wants to be.

In contrast to Clare’s rejection of maternity and family in favor of self-gratification and social status, Irene takes her own role as a mother very seriously. “I am wrapped up in my boys and the running of my house. I can’t help it. And really, I don’t think it’s anything to laugh at,” Irene responds to Clare (p. 210). She believes it is her responsibility to instill proper values in her two sons, and wants them to be able to grow up and freely embrace their African American heritage. After young Ted inquires about why only colored people were lynched, Irene and her husband Brian feud over how best to approach the subject of their sons’ race. Brian argues that if “they’ve [Ted and Junior] got to live in this damned country, they’d better find out what sort of thing they’re up against as soon as possible” (p. 231). He wants their children to be equipped to handle racism, but Irene wants “their childhood to be happy and as free from the knowledge of such things as it possibly can be” (p. 231). Irene fears that if her sons are more aware of the harsh bigotry and prejudice that awaits them out in the real world, they will become ashamed of their African American heritage and will suffer for it. If she fails to make her children’s lives happy and ‘as free from the knowledge’ of racism before they are ready for it, then Irene will not only have failed her position as a mother, but she will have failed her position as a mother of the Negro race. Unlike Clare, who does not want to be discovered that she is secretly carrying on the blood of the slaves, Irene wants to see her race progress into a better social stratum.

Irene’s decision to remain within the confines of her race and not publicly deny it also relates to the fact that the rest of her family is of a darker tone: “Irene…now said in a voice of whose even tones she was proud: ‘One of my boys is dark’” (p. 168). She has to be honored by her family’s skin color for the sake of her children. Irene ‘proudly’ describes her son as dark, and she sees it as her duty to foster this darkness and show off to the world how great the African American man can be. As opposed to Clare – who, as a deserter, has “to be afraid of freaks of the nature” (p. 169) – Irene has to deny actively passing and embrace her black heritage, and she believes that by uplifting future generations into overcoming white racism and prejudice, she will have done her part superbly as a colored mother.

The differences that separate Clare and Irene as mothers ultimately lead to their final confrontation and the tragic circumstances that surround them in the novel’s conclusion. Clare wants to free herself from John Bellew, but Irene believes that she is being selfish in neglecting Margery. “I think…that being a mother is the cruelest thing in the world,” Clare declares (p. 197). Clare believes that her child is holding her back from happiness and independence, and Irene tries desperately to explain to her that she has a duty to Margery. “We mothers are all responsible for the security and happiness of our children,” Irene argues to Clare in response. As a fellow parent, Irene wants to stop Clare from ruining the lives of herself and her child. It almost appears as if she wants to take them under her wing as well and nurture their appreciation – or at least acceptance – of their African American ancestry. When at the end, it seems as if Clare might have done the unthinkable and violated Irene’s own family, Irene comes to see Clare as a failure of the black race. Though Clare may have openly denied her race by passing as white for her entire adult life, Irene still believed that there was a chance to reclaim Clare.

In the end, Clare’s lack of dedication towards her maternity and family holds steady and Irene is zealous at maintaining the visage of a happy, successful African American family unit. The themes of family and womanhood are constantly being questioned and refashioned by Larsen in Passing because Clare and Irene’s passing – whether active or passive – experiences are deeply shaped by their maternal identities. These two radically different mothers interact with each other the entire novel, but their beliefs are too firm to be shaken. Mothers are expected to uphold the pride of her race, and since Clare could not do this for the white race she was a part of, she paid the consequences for it.

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Contrasting Beliefs and Lifestyles Give Purpose and Affirmation: Irene and Clare in Passing

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

Desmond Tutu once said, “A person is a person through other persons…. I am because other people are.” In essence, what Tutu is saying is that without other people to influence and affect an individual, a person is not really anyone. It is the things that other people do and say, and how an individual reacts to those things, that build personality, depth, and character. In Nella Larsen’s novella, Passing, protagonist Irene Redfield embodies Tutu’s quote. She lives a life in which her children, husband, and greater race guide her every move, and she abides by rigid social rules in order to maintain harmony within her community. On the contrary, her peer, Clare Kendry, disrupts this balance by making decisions purely in an individualistic manner, threatening Irene’s concept of a society in which everyone belongs to and lives for their respective communities. Because Clare is a personification of everything that Irene fears, Clare’s life gives Irene an affirmation of her ways of life, but also threatens Irene’s lifestyle by challenging the social constructs that give her safety, comfort, predictability, and security.

Irene and Clare have extremely different definitions of safety, which consequently threaten the other’s security. Irene’s security is dictated by other people – her husband, her children, and the greater black community; she is always a part of a collective identity. After Irene and her husband Brian get into a fight about their son, Irene expresses: “It was only that she wanted [Brian] to be happy… all other plans, all other ways, she regarded as menaces… to that security of place and substance which she insisted upon for her sons and in a lesser degree for herself” (90). The definitive and conclusive tone of this quote shows the self-sacrifice that guides Irene in her life. Additionally, the choice of the word “menaces” to describe all other plans that do not have to do with the happiness of her husband and her sons, and the word’s negative connotations, display the high degree to which Irene has dedicated her life to others. Lastly, the phrase “security of place and substance” clearly defines for the reader what safety is for Irene: happiness for her husband, her kids, and doing whatever it takes to achieve that, even that the expense of her own happiness. On the other hand, Clare’s security is dictated by her own individual desires, and her identity is not bound by that of anyone else. When she and Irene discuss their contrasting lifestyles, Clare explains, “‘Why, to get the things I want badly enough, I’d do anything, hurt anybody, throw anything away. Really, ‘Rene, I’m not safe’” (125). The blatancy of this quote and the ease in which Clare is able to articulate these emotions reveal her selfish and individualistic mindset. Also, the use of such all-encompassing words as “anything” and “anybody” suggests the extremity of Clare’s egotistical personality, as there is not a single person or thing she would not harm to get what she wants. Lastly, the use of the phrase “not safe” in respect to Clare shows the the mutual exclusivity between being selfish and being safe. Overall, their contrasting definitions of safety create conflict between the two, causing Irene to want to distance herself from Clare, but causing Clare to be more motivated to reintegrate into the black community.

As a result of their different definitions of safety, Clare and Irene are bound to one another; each of their lifestyles creates contrast to the other and either reaffirms or destroys their beliefs in the rightness of their respective ways of life. As a result, their differences each give them purpose: Irene needs to distance herself from Clare, while Clare wants to get closer to Irene. When Irene gets a letter from Clare, she reflects that “Clare Kendry cared nothing for the race. She only belonged to it” (76). The unquestionable and confident tone that Irene uses here demonstrates the strength and purpose that Irene gains from Clare’s disrespect toward the race. Irene wastes thought and energy on Clare because it reminds her of her own dedication to her race, and allows her to isolate Clare from the group. The fact-like conciseness and conclusivity of this quote indicates that Clare’s own treason to the race gives Irene an excuse and outlet to separate herself from those who do not commit their entire lives to their race. Besides giving Irene someone and something to speak out against and to separate herself from, Clare’s lifestyle also reaffirms Irene’s belief that her way of life is the right one. When Irene and Clare are talking and Clare begins to cry about the struggles she is having, she says to Irene: “‘How could you know? How could you? You’re free. You’re happy. And… safe” (100). This clear, concise, and powerful statement by Clare to Irene validates Irene’s lifestyle. The words such as “free,” “happy,” and “safe” are all of the things that Irene aspires to be in life, so Clare’s acknowledgment of this serves to prove to Irene that all of her self-sacrifice is worth it. Overall, Irene’s ideas of safety and freedom are bound to Clare because without her, Irene would not have such personal and firsthand experience with those who pass to the white world. As someone so entirely dedicated to her race and collective community, interacting with Clare gives Irene purpose and confidence in her own way of life.

However, as the novella progresses, Clare’s unfiltered honesty brings out the flaws in Irene’s seemingly perfect life, causing her to further isolate herself from Clare and from the truth. Irene and Brian have had many difficulties in their marriage throughout the novella, but it was always something that Irene swept under the rug in order to protect her sons and the stability of her life. However, after she develops a suspicion that Clare and Brian are having an affair, she tries with all of her might to suppress the painful memory. At a party at her house, she distracts herself and cuts the thought out of her mind rather than confronting it: “Downstairs the ritual of tea gave her some busy moments, and that, she decided, was a blessing. She wanted no empty spaces in time in which her mind would immediately return to that horror…” (138-9). Here, Irene’s ability to realize her husband might be cheating on her but then to completely distract herself with something as insignificant as pouring tea suggests an unfailing ability to hide her feelings. Even if it is her marriage being threatened, she never fails to hide the painful truth and go on with her life. Her coping mechanism is to repress and refuse this truth, and distance herself psychologically from anything that might threaten her security. She further demonstrates this later on in the scene, where she is finally able to actually think about the situation rather than just pushing it out of her mind: “It hurt. It hurt like hell. But it didn’t matter, if no one knew. If everything could go on as before. If the boys were safe” (147). Here, she conveys a more introspective and analytical approach to this painful truth that Clare has surfaced. She is able to recognize her own emotions and bring to light how she is feeling. However, the arc of her thought process ending with her decision to once again suppress her feelings shows her inability to do anything to threaten her life and security. The solution to Irene’s conundrum being hiding her feelings and continuing to serve everyone except herself implies her undying dedication and almost enslavement to others, but never to herself. Finally, at the end of the novella, it becomes clear that Clare’s very existence poses a threat to the security, predictability, and comfort of Irene’s lifestyle. Irene decides that the only way for her to be freed of the discomfort and vulnerability that Clare brings to her life is to get rid of Clare: “She was an American. She grew from this soil, she would not be uprooted. Not even because of Clare Kendry, or a hundred Clare Kendrys” (169-70). The end of the novella makes reference to the American dream, and the American identity to which Irene lives so strongly by. Her connection to America and her feeling that Clare threatens this connection is what makes her decide that nobody, not even Clare, can stop her from pursuing the American lifestyle that she wants. However, even when she has this realization, she continues the same habit of pushing whatever threatens her and her lifestyle away, rather than dealing with the issues in front of her.

The end of the novella is a tragic one, as Clare dies from falling out of a window. It is unclear how exactly the tragedy occurred, but it is clear that Clare’s death is a symbolic one. Clare is the only character in the novella who successfully and wholeheartedly takes control of her own life and destiny, rather than letting social constructs or the demands of a collective identity get in her way. Unlike Irene, who fears individuality and self-reliance, Clare is able to threaten the society in which she lives by passing from one world to another, never picking one, and living in the in-between. Irene, on the other hand, continues to repress the truth in order to keep living in a predictable, comfortable, ideal world dictated by social constructs. However, the fact that Clare dies suggests that unfortunately, the only way to be truly safe and free is to stick to the status quo and conform to societal norms. This is because the perpetuation of any social constructs requires people to believe in and sustain them; when one person attempts to disrupt such an ideologically homogeneous society, he or she unfortunately cannot change the fixed views or behaviors of anyone else.

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Improper Politics: Quicksand and Black Female Sexuality

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

The entertainment of a Harlem cabaret hypnotizes Helga Crane, the protagonist of Nella Larsen’s Quicksand. She loses herself in the “sudden streaming rhythm” and delights in the sexually suggestive moves of the dancers. Helga is “blown out, ripped out, beaten out by the joyous, wild, murky orchestra” in a moment suggestive of a sexual climax. But when the music fades, Helga returns to reality and asserts that “she wasn’t, she told herself, a jungle creature.” Helga feels this struggle between sexual freedom and restraint throughout the novel. As Larsen shows in the cabaret, black women of the early twentieth century repressed their sexual desires so that white America would perceive them as respectable. In its fight for equality, the black social elite wanted women to emulate the conventions of mainstream society. Maintaining a good image was intended not only to produce change within the race, but also to combat white stereotypes that caused discrimination against black people. Thus, described as primitive and promiscuous since slavery, black women hid their sexuality under socially accepted behavior. But, as Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham refers to it, this “politics of respectability” had profound consequences.

The politics of respectability shifted the blame for racist stereotypes from whites to blacks. Instead of stopping whites from unfairly labeling black women, the ideology of racial uplift forced black women to change their behavior in response to stereotypes. As Kevin K. Gaines argues in his book Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century, racial uplift supported an internalized form of racism. He writes, “Racial uplift ideology’s gender politics led African American elites to mistake the effects of oppression for causes…” Larsen’s Quicksand shows the psychological consequences of repressing sexuality. Helga moves from place to place and searches for happiness without rationality. Her unhappiness arises because the politics of respectability prevented black women from defining the terms of their sexuality. They were either lascivious “jungle creature[s]” or the ideal Victorian lady. Thus, uplift stopped black women from embracing their sexuality in a healthy way. Although the politics of respectability had good intentions, it severely curtailed individual freedom and prevented black women from forming their own identities.

The black elite intended the politics of respectability to prevent discrimination. They reasoned that if whites saw that blacks had similar morals, they would have no basis for treating them unequally. The politics of respectability aimed at thwarting the dissemination of negative black images that occurred in films like D. W. Griffith’s Birth of Nation and other media. Among the most ingrained stereotypes-and therefore most contested- was the promiscuous black woman. Higginbotham argues that “black womanhood and white womanhood were represented with diametrically opposed sexualities.” She gives the example of a white woman quoted in a newspaper as saying, “I cannot imagine such a creation as a virtuous black woman.” Whereas American society saw white women as chaste, it viewed black women as sex-crazed and loose. Thus, the black elite sought to reinvent the image of the black female. They took on white society’s norms and morals and instructed black women on issues from proper conduct on streetcars to appropriate colors for clothing. But, as Larsen illustrates in Quicksand, the politics of respectability promoted strict conformity and erased individuality. The black elite censured people who engaged in inappropriate behavior. The Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., required individuals caught dancing and drinking to come before a church court. The black elite also attacked jazz, perhaps the most significant contribution to American culture at the time. Echoing the thoughts of Helga Crane in the cabaret, they said going to jazz halls amounted to “a voluntary return to the jungle.” Black women were no longer free to enjoy themselves without judgment. They became, like Helga, psychologically incomplete, needing sexual fulfillment but denied this by dominant society.

The politics of respectability emphasized that the individual determined the fate of the race. The black elite believed that individual behavior reflected on everyone. Higginbotham writes about the fear that Baptist women had of nonconformity to their morals. “The Baptist women spoke as if ever-cognizant of the gaze of white America, which in panoptic fashion focused on each and every black person and recorded his transgressions in an overall accounting of black inferiority,” she argues. To keep everyone in line, the social elite intruded into the family life of black women. They linked poor eating habits with “chewing, smoking, and…drinking.” The woman who kept her house dirty became an “enemy of the race.” Aside from nutrition and housekeeping, the black elite emphasized that the dignified individual required good parenting and lineage. For people like Helga who came from broken families, this expectation made them outsiders. Helga struggles with the tainted image that she inherits throughout Quicksand. When she wants to marry James Vayle, his parents disapprove of her lack of family. Lamenting the black social structure, Helga claims that “Negro society, she had learned, was as complicated and as rigid in its ramifications as the highest strata of white society. If you couldn’t prove your ancestry and connections, you were tolerated, but you didn’t ‘belong.’” By scrutinizing every aspect of personal life, the politics of respectability eliminated the individual in favor of the collective. It placed so many burdens on black women that Helga tries to escape her race. When she leaves Harlem for Copenhagen, Helga delights in “that blessed sense of belonging to herself and not to a race.” But, as she quickly realizes, she could not sever her racial ties by changing location.

Larsen also dealt with the oppression of racial uplift and infused Quicksand with her personal experience. Like Helga, she had parents of different races. Her mother was Danish and her father was West Indian. Like Helga, Her mother later married a white man who looked down on Larsen because of her race. Larsen studied science at Fisk University in Tennessee and also took classes at the University of Copenhagen. In 1915, she went to the South and became the superintendent of nurses at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. She left Tuskegee because she disliked its teaching methods and went to New York City, where she began to write several years later. She published her first novel, Quicksand, in 1928. As an author of the “New Negro” period, Larsen wrote for an audience that expected her to conform. Many leaders of the race believed that black literature should combat white stereotypes. In the “New Negro,” Alain Locke argued that African-American literature should promote race pride. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a review of Quicksand for “The Crisis” in which he compared the novel to Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem. He applauds Larsen for a “fine, thoughtful and courageous piece of work,” but criticizes McKay for his emphasis on sex. DuBois describes the book as nauseating and says that it made him “feel distinctly like taking a bath.” Du Bois enters the debate on sexuality and uplift in his review. He condemns Home to Harlem for playing into “that prurient demand on the part of white folk” and praises Quicksand for portraying “honest, young fighting Negro women.” He thus promotes the idea that blacks should suppress their sexuality to combat white stereotypes of their promiscuity. Du Bois shows that the black elite preferred to address sexuality indirectly or not all.

Despite her conservative audience, Larsen criticized the goals of uplift and dealt seriously with female sexuality. Social expectations constrained her, but she asserted that black sexuality could not be ignored. Deborah E. McDowell, in the introduction to Quicksand, writes, “Larsen wanted to tell a story of the black woman with sexual desires, but was constrained by a competing desire to establish black women as respectable in black middle class terms.” McDowell adds that because of the second consideration, Larsen could only deal with sex “obliquely.” Larsen used Helga to express her thoughts on uplift and sexuality. She based the fictional Naxos on Tuskegee and had the same criticisms as Helga does of its social rules. Helga finds the social environment of Naxos oppressive and rigid. She believes that, although it was founded with good intentions, Naxos has turned into a machine. Helga claims that “it was… now only a big knife with cruel sharp edges ruthlessly cutting all to a pattern, the white man’s pattern.” Naxos teaches its students to give up their individuality, and associated sexuality, in favor of a respectable image. Larsen shows that even the smallest expressions of sexuality could not exist in this environment. The female faculty wears dull-colored clothing and becomes uncomfortable when Helga puts on “dark purples, royal blues, rich greens, [and] deep reds.” Unwilling to accept social convention, Helga leaves Naxos when Dr. Anderson calls her a “lady,” a loaded term in her mind. For Helga, it means giving up her individuality and being untrue to herself.

Although Helga defies social convention by leaving Naxos, she retains a preoccupation with “ladylike” behavior. In a situation reminiscent of the Harlem cabaret, Helga watches a Copenhagen vaudeville show in which two American blacks perform. Their “loose” movements embarrass and repulse Helga, who attends the show with her white friends. “She felt ashamed, betrayed, as if these pale pink and white people among whom she lived had suddenly been invited to look upon something in her which she had hidden away and wanted to forget,” Larsen writes. The thing that “she had hidden away” is her sexuality. Helga wants to challenge the white stereotype of primitive, lascivious blacks, but she also wants to express her own sexuality. She shows that the politics of respectability prevented black women from releasing their sexual tensions. Instead, it bottled up their physical desires and allowed them to reach a near-boiling point. Higginbotham demonstrates that African-American women in the early twentieth century felt social obligations similar to Helga’s. “Respectability, too, offered the black Baptist women a perceived defense of their sexual identities,” she claims. Just as the white audience put Helga in a defensive position, black women fought a society that placed them in a negative role. The Woman’s Convention, Auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention, argued that the black woman “must become a tower of moral strength and by her reserve and dignified bearing, defy and cower her aggressors.”

Although the black elite wanted to fight stereotypes, they often accepted them unwittingly. The politics of respectability assumed that blacks gave white people reasons to treat them unequally. Higginbotham argues that “the politics of respectability equated nonconformity with the cause of racial inequality and injustice.” In this way, uplift made discrimination about supposedly improving black morals rather than combating white bias. Gaines claims that the emphasis on family life also shifted the blame for sexual misconceptions to black women. “Such emphasis on family life as a racial panacea often treated the problem as a failure of blacks to conform to Victorian sexual mores, instead of an outgrowth of ongoing, systematic repression,” Gaines writes. Inspired by the black elite, this self-reproach contributed to a confused racial identity. Helga fluctuates between looking down on blacks and feeling connected to them. “She didn’t, in spite of her racial markings, belong to these dark segregated people,” Helga claims. “She was different. She felt it. It wasn’t merely a matter of color.” Helga goes to Copenhagen to escape her race, but finds that color is important there, too. Her Danish relatives support the stereotype of the exotic black female and make Helga into a sex object. Her aunt and uncle put her in bright revealing clothes and exhibit her to their friends. Unwilling to accept this new role, Helga returns to Harlem and yearns to be apart of her race again. “How absurd she had been to think that another country, other people could liberate her from the ties which bound her forever to…these lovable, dark hordes,” Helga muses when she returns to Harlem. The inability to define her own sexuality causes Helga’s vacillation between the races. In Harlem, she must repress her physical desires to be respectable. In Copenhagen, her relatives transform her into an object of lust.

When Helga returns to Harlem, she begins to express her sexuality, but in bizarre and misguided ways. Soaked and looking for shelter, Helga finds refuge in a church and has an experience that is both religious conversion and sexual liberation. Larsen blurs the lines between religious fervor and passion in this intense scene. She writes, “as Helga watched and listened gradually a curious influence penetrated her; she felt an echo of the weird orgy resound in her own heart.” After releasing her sexual frustration at the church, Helga seduces a preacher who helps her home. But her decision has far-reaching consequences. She enters a loveless marriage and becomes pregnant five times. Larsen equates motherhood with a slow death as each child increases Helga’s suffering. All hopes for her happiness end when she has her first child. “She had ruined her life. Made it impossible to do the things that she wanted, have the things that she loved, mingle with the people she liked,” Larsen claims. Thus, Larsen argues that black women had to sacrifice their dreams to satisfy their physical desires. She criticizes the politics of respectability for offering either a non-sexual existence or domestic servitude. McDowell argues that “Larsen castigates the dual price- marriage and pregnancy/childbearing- that women must pay for sexual expression.” By ending Quicksand with Helga pregnant once again, Larsen attacks social convention for the burdens that it placed on black women.

Helga’s mixed background further complicates her search for sexual satisfaction and happiness. She is unsure of where she belongs and how the politics of respectability affect her. When she leaves Copenhagen, Helga laments not feeling a part of either race. “Why couldn’t she have two lives, or why couldn’t she be satisfied in one place?” she thinks. At times, she wants to escape other black people and to forget the ties to her race. But when she travels to Copenhagen, she realizes that her white relatives treat her as only an exotic curiosity. Helga’s confusion is similar to what Du Bois refers to as double-consciousness. Du Bois argues that white perceptions of black people influenced how blacks saw themselves. Du Bois writes, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself in the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” Because Helga is a person of mixed background, the feeling of double-consciousness becomes pronounced. When Helga describes the Harlem nightclub as a jungle, she looks at the scene through white eyes. She accepts the stereotype of the savage black and stops herself from enjoying the dancing. Larsen writes, “She cloaked herself in a faint disgust as she watched the entertainers throw themselves about to the bursts of syncopated jungle.” Larsen shows the power of white stereotypes in black life. Helga lives with the fear of being watched and analyzed. Even when she is free to enjoy herself, white ideas still influence her behavior.

Larsen not only deals with double-consciousness, but also grapples with what it means to be black. She examines whether being black can be a choice in Quicksand and her other novel Passing. Helga moves between black and white communities to find where she belongs. She attempts to move in with her uncle in Chicago, but the thought of having a black person in the family terrifies his wife. Rejected and desperate for work, she goes to Harlem, where she stays with Anne. But she grows tired of talking with Anne about the “Negro problem.” Helga believes that discussion of the Negro problem only emphasizes black oppression. “She wanted to be free from this constant prattling of the incongruities, the injustices, the stupidities, the viciousness of white people. It stirred memories, probed hidden wounds, whose poignant ache bred in her a surprising oppression,” Larsen claims. Unable to accept her inferior position in America, Helga leaves for Copenhagen to embrace her white relatives. Although her Danish relatives treat her nicely, they do not regard her as equal. “True she was attractive, unusual, in an exotic, almost savage way, but she wasn’t one of them. She didn’t at all count,” Helga thinks at her relatives’ dinner party. Helga wants to return to Harlem when she realizes that she is different from her white friends. Because Helga needs to associate with black people, Larsen suggests that blackness is innate even for people of mixed backgrounds. Helga’s separation from her race is impossible.

Similarly, Larsen’s connection to the black middle class affected her work. Because Larsen was a part of this class, she could not criticize the politics of respectability freely. McDowell argues that “however much Larsen criticizes the repressive standards of sexual morality upheld by the black middle class, finally she cannot escape those values.” Although Larsen attacks the morals of racial uplift, she deals with sexuality within its framework. Larsen makes marriage and pregnancy the inevitable consequences of expressing physical desire. She writes after Helga sleeps with Reverend Green, “And so in the confusion of seductive repentance Helga Crane was married to the grandiloquent Reverend Mr. Pleasant Green.” Helga’s “repentance” suggests that she must atone for fornicating with Reverend Green. She never accepts Christianity in her heart, but uses it to cloak her guilt. The marriage also has inappropriate motives. Helga feels that she must marry Green because Christianity demands it. She neglects her husband and despises both motherhood and marriage. “For the preacher, her husband, she had a feeling of gratitude, almost amounting to sin. Beyond that, she thought of him not at all,” Larsen writes. By ending with Helga unhappy and pregnant again, Quicksand suggests that no appropriate place for black sexuality exists. Larsen implies that escaping society’s morals was impossible. Helga challenges them but succumbs to their consequences in the end.

The repression of black sexuality still occurs today. Cornel West argues that it is still a taboo in his book Race Matters. He regrets that black families, churches, and schools have ignored black sexuality. West believes that these organizations have neglected black sexuality to gain the acceptance of white America. West writes, “struggling black institutions made a Faustian pact with white America: avoid any substantive engagement with black sexuality and your survival on the margins of American society is, at least, possible.” This “Faustian pact” has caused many black women to treat their physical desires with apprehension and disgust. Helga feels the psychological damage that the politics of respectability inflict. She searches for sexual fulfillment throughout the novel, and when she finds it, social expectations suffocate her. The title “Quicksand” alludes to the hopelessness of Helga’s search for happiness. The more she struggles, the faster she sinks. Ironically, the politics of respectability could neither inhibit white stereotypes of black sexuality nor improve race relations. More than seventy years after Larsen published Quicksand, West discusses the same assumptions that whites have of black sexuality. Because stereotypes are not always based on truth, the public-image campaign, promoted by black elites, could only achieve so much. Uplift also increased racial misunderstanding. The politics of respectability put black sexuality under the rug, but, by leaving it unaddressed, fostered contradictory images of black women. They were either sex-crazed or sexless. In this way, the politics of respectability obscured the fact that sexual desire is natural and failed to engage in a realistic dialogue.

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The Role of Jealousy in Their Eyes Were Watching God, a Novel by Zora Neale Hurston

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

Jealousy in Their Eyes Were Watching God

In her article “Listening to Jealousy,” Sara Eckel explains how jealousy can be a useful emotion that can bring a couple closer together if it is properly managed; however, if left unchecked it can lead to the demise of the relationship. Eckel uses the idea of “mate-retention” (np), and “mate-poaching” (np), as the explanation for why people become jealous and why we act the way we do when we are jealous. “[M]ate- retention” (Eckel np) is the idea that if a person is flirting with your partner it is in your best interest to stop them. If you do nothing your partner may leave you and go with the other person. The idea of “mate-poaching” (Eckel np), is attempting to take someone else’s mate for your own. The article uses the example of putting your arm around your partner’s shoulder at a party. The act of putting your arm around their shoulder serves two purposes. First, it tells other people at the party that this person is committed and is not available. In addition it lets your partner know that you care about keeping them; it tells them that you are willing to assert yourself in order to keep them. This seemingly says that jealousy is good because it keeps relationships strong; however, Eckel warns that the over abundance of this powerful emotion can ruin a relationship. The article uses Sandy and Katie, a couple who because of jealousy do things that they would never do in a normal state of mind, as an example of how jealousy when allowed to run rampant can wreak havoc. Sandy stole katie’s laptop when she was on a date. In retaliation Katie ransacked his apartment. During this katie “had a moment of clarity” and “Her jealousy had turned her into someone she didn’t know” (Eckel np). This shows how having to much jealousy can lead to a person doing something extremely irrational and out of character.

In chapter 15 of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Hurston Nukie is flirting with Tea Cake and Tea cakes wife, Janie, becomes very jealous. After seeing Tea Cake struggling on the ground with Nunkie, Janie feels that Tea Cake will leave her for Nunkie. The narrator states “she began to be snappish a little.” (Huston 136) This shows the jealousy that Janie felt caused a change in her personality. After arguing about Nukie, Tea Cake and Janie “wrestled on until they were doped with their own fumes and emanations; till their clothes had been torn away” (Hurston 137) Janie, feeling jealousy toward Nukie, used sex as “mate-retention” because she felt that Nukie was attempting to “poach” Tea Cake from her. Janie knew that if she was able to give Tea Cake something that Nukie could not then he would not leave. In addition she also knew that arguing with him would only make him angry and increase the odds that he would leave her for Nukie. Janie noticed that her personality was changing due to jealousy and because of this uses “mate-retention” to use this emotion for good instead of allowing it to fester and grow.

Jealousy can be used for both good and bad however the way a person decides to go about focusing their emotions can make or break a relationship. Janie used sex as “mate-retention” the issue with this is that by having sex with Tea Cake she is merely delaying the underlying problem. She is doing the equivalent of putting a band-aid deep cut. It may help not but sooner or later it will bleed through and expose the wound. The sex will only last so long and after its over Tea Cake will still flirt with Nukie. If she had instead talked to Tea Cake she may have been able to solve the issue at its roots, but because she just delays the problem. When the sex is over Janie will still be jealous and even more so than before. If the problem is not stopped then it will amplify until the tipping point.

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A Book Review of Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

Zora Neale Hurston enriches our sense of her childhood world by using sensory language and manipulating the reader’s view by articulating the contrast between her mother’s idealism and her father’s realism.

Hurston’s diction and syntax come together to create a vivid image of the beautiful Garden of Eden that held all her needs. Hurston’s first steps into the city are identifiable by the “fleshy, white, fragrant blooms,” that were too common to charge for in the countryside, but were a gift to be paid for up in the north. THese descriptive words serve as the foundation Hurston sets up to appeal to our senses. The repeated “plenty” of tropical fruits, entertainment, land, and space form the idea of a grand fulfilling self-sufficient land, as alluded to the Garden of Eden, is a perfect world without sins, such as racism and prejudice. Her five-acre garden in which they were “never hungry” and even held enough fruit to be used as toys is used to emphasize that as a child Hurston was provided for and taken care of. Hurston creates this feeling in order for the readers to see that the perfect garden provided for her in the same way the Garden of Eden provided for Adam and Eve. The biblical analogy is pushed further when Hurston specifically chooses a Northern apple to represent temptation and curiosity. Just as Adam and Eve were tempted with curiosity to eat the forbidden fruit, Hurston alludes to the apple as the temptation that lead to the tainting of her innocence in the North; that was once preserved for her in her plentiful land. Hurston deliberately compares her father’s cynicism and her mother’s optimism to develop the conflicting ideals of environment versus experience in her childhood life. By revealing Papa’s dire predictions of “white folk were not going to stand for it…somebody was going to blow me down for my sassy tongue” and Papa’s “personal reference” on the subject Hurston effectively conveys her father’s history with white folk. Hurston’s father’s cynicism derives from his background experience of prejudice. Hurston’s Mama, however, is sheltered in the South and her comforting environment is the source of her idealism.

Hurston’s mother’s optimism that encourages Zora to “jump at de sun” reveals that Mama is uneducated full of hope in her children’s future. The competing views that influence Hurston’s childhood provide a tension in her life that she didn’t quite understand as a child, but will encounter in the North. Hurston starts with the innocence and romantic viewpoint of life, but after her experiences in the North the reality of racism creates a drastic difference compared to her idealized childhood, The childhood portion of Hurston’s autobiography is written to explicitly express her sheltered perfect garden and the temptation to wander out into the North

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