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Free Study Guide-Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston-Free
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Chapters 5-6

Summary (continued)

After she has been married to him for seven years, Janie discovers the real truth about Joe. One night he slaps her repeatedly for cooking a dinner he does not like. She is very upset. She looks inside herself and sees that Joe has never been her dream, her pear tree. He has never fulfilled her. She realizes that she has an inside and an outside. Her outside is Joe's respectable wife. Her inside waits for a man she has not yet met.

The next day Janie can tell from the way that Joe is acting that he wants to make peace, but she now realizes it will only be on his own terms; therefore, she does nothing. They both go to the store. When Janie arrives, Mrs. Robbins is on the porch, begging for food for herself and her children. In the usual way, Joe submits to Mrs. Robbins' pleas and gives her a small piece of meat. The men on the porch, including Joe, discuss Mrs. Robbins' terrible begging behavior and the endless patience of her unfortunate husband. They scornfully note that her husband will not beat her, for she is small and frail like a baby chicken. Janie gives the men a lecture, saying they know little about women or chickens. She points out that God talks his inside business to women as well as men. Joe tells her to shut her mouth and go get the checkerboard so he can play.

Notes

Again in these chapters, Hurston cleverly intertwines the story of Janie with a discussion of racial and sexual concerns. Early in the section, it is clear that Janie's second marriage is far from perfect; Joe is definitely not her pear tree. Instead, he is a domineering and determined husband and citizen. At home he is bossy, telling Janie how to dress and what to cook. At work, he is insulting, making her tie her hair back and calling her stupid. In the town, he becomes a mover and a shaker, quickly appointed as mayor. He is an avid builder, rapidly creating a store and a large white house. As a slave to the material world and an imitator of the white man, he is both lauded and resented by others in the town. One observer reminds another not to tear Joe down for demanding a significant place in the world, for envy among the Negroes will only keep all of them down.


These two chapters establish a plot and a stylistic thread. On the plot line, the relationship between Joe and Janie falls apart. Although Joe puts Janie on a pedestal, saying she is better than others because she is his wife, he also repeatedly debases her. At work, he criticizes and humiliates her in front of others and will not allow her to socialize with the porch-sitters, saying they are beneath her. At home, he resorts to slapping her to keep her in line. His behavior is so degrading that Janie no longer feels there is a real marriage between them. She has come to realize that she is merely one of his visions and that when she does not perform as he expects, he will go to any lengths to move her into line. For the time being, she submits, but she knows she will not do so forever. She now knows that she has an interior self that longs for something better than her exterior life. She will take care of her heart, the symbol of her inside person, until she meets the right man to nurture it.

Hurston also humorously establishes a picture of the community in these two chapters by including folkloric elements. She paints a vivid picture of the porch-sitters and brings them to life through their stories. She cleverly tells about Matt's mule and the men showing off for Daisy. In both cases, the men are obnoxious, trying to act important. Hurston is emphasizing Nanny's earlier idea of how black men treat women as the mules of the world. In both story- telling scenarios, the mule and the women are treated as "property" to be tormented. That is also how Joe increasingly treats Janie. Ironically, he is much kinder to Matt's mule than he is to his own wife.

Hurston is not, however, writing a picture of glum female defeat. Janie is interested in the folkloric tales and wants to be included and contribute. Unfortunately, Joe does let her. He does, however, listen to her once and frees the mule. Hurston thus proposes the idea that women have a humanizing affect on men. Joe even allows Janie to make a speech about his freeing the mule. Janie's inclusion as part of the community scene benefits her and the community; because of Joe, it cannot be sustained. But by the end of Chapter 6, Janie makes it clear that she will not put up with Joe's cruelty forever.

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