Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
Chapters 2 - 4
Janie goes inside, feeling wrong-side out. While she cooks breakfast, she thinks about Logan's words and other considerations. She decides to waste no more time. She heads out the gate, going south. Even if she does not find Joe, she knows that has made a decent change in her life. She flings away her apron and makes a bouquet of wild flowers. Joe is waiting for her with a hired rig. He buys her new clothes of silk and wool. They are then married before sundown. That night they sit on the boardinghouse steps and watch the sun disappear.
In this section, Janie estimates her young life. She judges her grandmother's existence as very different from her own. She does not discount or disregard her grandmother's history, but she does disavow any responsibility to live by it. She must make her own experiences and history. When she first meets Joe Starks, she does recall her grandmother's concerns and is temporarily influenced by them; before long, however, she finds Joe to be a man of good intent and decides to pursue him. She is rewarded for her efforts, for he carries her off in style and marries her.
The book's most significant image is the pear tree, which first appeared in Chapter 1. In this section, Janie's sexual awakening is stated in terms of the bees-and-trees imagery, and she eagerly wonders when she will feel the joy of the pear tree. It becomes the measure by which she will evaluate all of her partnerships with men. If a man falls short, such as Logan does, Janie states that he does not live up to the pear tree, which shook with pleasure in response to the bees.
In spite of the fact that the sixteen-year-old Janie follows the command of her grandmother to marry Logan, she is determined to find her own way. She quickly realizes that her grandmother's estimation of love and marriage is bogus. Logan, who is old and demanding, is certainly not meant for her. Although he is kind to her at first, he is never a real husband. As he begins to increasingly boss her around and deride her background, she knows she cannot stay with him. She also knows that Joe is not exactly the pear tree she is seeking, but he does present an interesting far horizon for her. As a result, Janie leaves with him. Hurston does not even bother to comment on the fact that she marries Joe without divorcing Logan.
The quick history of Janie's family and the first half of Janie's life presented in these three chapters is rich with historical detail and a feminist perspective on the place of African-American women in the United States. Nanny has been a slave, who was sexually abused by her white master. Janie's mother is the product of the abuse. When the master's wife realizes that Nanny's child is white and her husband is the obvious father, she threatens to kill her. Nanny flees with her one-week old baby and hides in the swamps until slaves become free. It is no small wonder that she feels that black women are the mules of the world. It is also not surprising that Nanny has always wanted to preach a "great sermon about colored women sittin' on high," but there has never been a pulpit for her; instead, she preaches to Janie, who listens and learns.
The life of Janie's mother is not much better than Nanny's life. Although Nanny takes her to Florida and tries to raise her decently, she is raped by her schoolteacher and becomes pregnant. When Janie is born, her mother is unfit to raise her. She drinks, runs around, and eventually leaves. Janie is left with her grandmother, who works to instill a sense of pride in her granddaughter.
Janie is the product of her past. She is a member of the post-reconstruction generation, the child of two women who have clearly suffered the degradation of the white south. She refuses to be abused like her predecessors; she will not live with Logan and be insulted and treated like a mule. She is going to make her own glorious way in the world, just as her grandmother wanted her to do, but in a manner very unlike her grandmother would have imagined.