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Janie's grandmother, a former slave, represents a type of thinking that is, to Janie, old fashioned and born from fear. Since Janie is raised by her grandmother, the woman is a great influence on her early thinking. Nanny tells Janie that black women are the mules of the world, overworked, led by others, and unappreciated. She wants Janie to have more than she has ever had. She also instills a sense of confidence and pride in her granddaughter. Janie is determined not to become another mule
Nanny loves Janie and works hard to give her the best in life. When Janie is abandoned by her mother, Nanny moves to Florida to raise the child. She works as a servant for a decent white family, which helps Nanny to raise the child and allows Janie to play with their children. Because Nanny has done without things through her whole life, material goods and security are very important to her. As a result, she insists that Janie marry Logan Killicks, because he has a farm and can provide security for her. She falsely tells Janie that she will grow to love the old man. Although Janie respects Nanny, she resents that she "sold" her into a miserable existence as Logan's wife. She forgives her grandmother, but she is determined to find her own way and not live Nanny's way.
Janie's first husband lives up to his last name. He nearly kills Janie's soul as he taunts his young wife. He works hard, but he is an old man who cannot change and is in no way up to his wife's youth and love of life. She is a possession to him, and Janie knows it. He cares for Janie in his own way, but he cannot be anything other than what he is, a hard-working farmer with little patience for anything outside of "productive" work. Although he is sad at seeing Janie slip away, there is nothing he can do.
Janie's second husband shows up at the moment when she needs an escape from Logan, and she becomes his prize possession. He is thoroughly self-confident and takes many situations in hand, steering them to what he feels is a reasonable end. He does not have much self-perception, however, and he cannot understand what it is Janie wants from him. He finds it perfectly reasonable that she should be what he wants her to be, for he puts her on a pedestal and provides for her needs. Joe is a strong force to be reckon with, and Janie tries to live beside him--first in silence and then in confrontation. Joe, however, is stubborn to the end. He must control his environment and Janie; when she steps out of his mold, he must shout or hit her back into obedience.
Joe has unbounded energy and is the pillar of Eatonville. Even though he builds the town and becomes mayor, he is a rather lonely character, especially when he grows ill. Joe is so enthralled with power and possession that he becomes terrified when he realizes that Janie has power as a separate individual. He blames that power for his death. In the end, he dies a pathetic man.