Their Eyes Were Watching God

“Janie loved the conversation and sometimes she thought up good stories on the mule, but Joe had forbidden her to indulge. He didn’t want her talking after such trashy people. “You’se Mrs. Mayor Starks, Janie. I god, Ah can’t see what uh woman uh yo’ stability would want tuh be treasurin’ all dat gum-grease from folks dat don’t even own de house dey sleep in.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston et al., Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pp. 55-56.

The irony of this excerpt lies in that Joe, the mayor, often cracks jokes with the townspeople. However, he insults them and their fun — furthermore reminding Janie of her “superior” place as his wife. This displays how Joe projects himself as better than the townspeople, as well as Janie, and ultimately displays the abusive power of men and leaders.

Society in Their Eyes

Throughout the book so far, a woman’s relevance and worth is determined by what they can provide for society. In this case, are they marriage material and if they are, can they produce children.  In the case of Janie, she got pregnant and it’s okay only because she is married. “You ain’t got nothin’ to be shamed of, honey, youse uh married ‘oman. You got yo’ lawful husband same as Mis’ Washburn or anybody else” (Hurston, chapter 3). So the Nanny recognizes the importance of being married before having children. If she weren’t married, the response would change and it would be shameful. The woman’s worth is defined only by their place relating to men.


Their Eyes Were Watching God

“So she would pick at me all de time and put some others up tuh do de same. They’d push me me ‘way from de ring plays and make out they couldn’t play wid nobody dat lived on premises.”

Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1st Perennial Classics ed., 1998,page 9

Here Janie describes how she was outcast out of her own community for people within the black community would outcast others for having a connection to a white. The clothes she would wear were associated with a sense of superiority and she was rejected by her peers for. It is interesting because Janie is not a part of the white community but because she interacts them she is pushed to the side by her black one out of jealous and because she does not conform to their standards.

The Social Context of Janie

“Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then act and do things accordingly.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pp. 1.

To begin the book, this statement sets the state of the woman, painting the tragedies their lives have by what they choose to remember and what they choose to forget, as if they might not have autonomy over what happens to them but at least have the ability of control over their own thoughts and perceptions. “The dream is the truth” is insinuating that reality is less than desirable, so to manifest one’s wants and to try to act accordingly is a radical but beneficial mindset to have, one which Janie embodies throughout the novel through her independent attitude in the face of pain.

Their Eyes Watching God

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.  For some they come in with the tide.  For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by time.  That is the life of men”.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston et al., Harper Perennial, 2000, pp. 1

Hurston compares the life of men to the live of sailor.  When she adds “for some they come in with the tide”, she means that some men finally become content and happy with their life.  She then adds “For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by time”.  Here, Hurston explains that some men are never satisfied, instead,”they sail forever on the horizon until the watcher turns his eyes away in resignation.  Lastly, “his dreams are mocked to death by time” because he wasted so much time searching for happiness in the wrong things.




Their Eyes Were Watching God

“‘Den de big bell ring in Atlanta and all de men in gray uniforms had to go to Moultrie, and bury their swords in de ground to show they was never to fight about slavery no mo’. So den we knowed we was free'” (Hurston 19).

By having a Black woman tell the story of the Civil War, Hurston writes a different history that centers the experience of Black women. She uses dialectal writing to give voice to a history that is often taught from the opposing perspective.

Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1937.

Janie and Social Context

“The years took all the fight out of Janie’s face. For a while she thought it was gone from her soul. No matter what Jody did, she said nothing.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston et al., Harper Perennial, 2000, pp. 76

Janie is someone who’s behavior, and the way she interacts with the people around her, has always been decided by someone else – in this case, it would be Jody. She’s learned to repress her thoughts despite the need she often has to express them, knowing from experience that if she does, she will be berated. In the new town, no one knows her as anything but the mayor’s quiet, amiable wife; inwardly, she hates her status, she has no love for her husband, and there is not a single citizen in their new town who can relate to her plight. Despite the community around her, Janie is alone.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

“The morning road air was like a new dress . That made her feel the apron tied around her waist. She untied it and flung it on a low bush beside the road and walked on, picking the flowers and making a bouquet.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston et al., Harper Perennial, 2000, pp. 58

This passage connects back to Janie’s dream of a marriage that was taken from her when she married Logan Killicks. In the second chapter, Janie had a fantasy that marriage would bring her sexual ecstasy and while watching the bees and flowers. When she married Logan,  she did not have that (end of chapter 3). By running away with Joe Stacks she is chasing her dream of marriage. She is full of hope for a new life.  These sentiments are represented in this passage through the metaphorical new dress (new life and marriage), leaving her apron behind (leaving Logan and her life with him behind her) and the flowers (the sexual ecstasy and love in her new marriage that she hopes for).

Their Eyes Were Watching God

“The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off. She knew that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman,”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston et al., Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pp. 25.

This revelatory moment at the end of chapter 3 signifies Janie’s true coming of age in terms of independence. Her Grandmother tried to instill in her that the best way to secure happiness is through the safety and security enabled by marriage. However, she finds that she cannot live a dull life deprived of passion. Therefore she reaches her first truly independent decision to follow her instincts and run off with Joe Starks. The passage makes clear that she is headed towards an uncertain future,  somewhere indeterminate off in the distance, but she identifies that it is a risk worth taking to seek out real meaning.

Husband and Mrs. Husband

“Ah run off tuh keep house wid you in uh wonderful way. But you wasn’t satisfied wid me de way Ah was. Naw! Mah own mind had tuh be squeezed and crowded out tuh make room for yours in me.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston et al., Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pp. 86.

When running off with Joe, Janie actually did want to fulfill the societal of the dutiful wife contentedly confined to domesticity. But over time she came to see that this was incompatible with her having a mind of her own; she was forced to be the mayor’s wife in appearance, actions, and even thoughts. It’s interesting to debate whether she wanted the modern ideal of being an independent human being from her husband, or if she just wanted a little bit more say while still essentially being a housewife.

Janie: A Critical Moment

“Then too, Janie took the middle of the floor to talk right into Jody’s face, and that was something that hadn’t been done before.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pp. 78.

Up until this moment in her relationship with Jody, Janie has been docile, and according to public appearances the two of them get along well. But here, she deliberately, triumphantly chooses to be an active character in the moment, against Joe’s wishes, and against his antagonism; and she is well aware of it, taking the center stage.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

“‘Whut make her keep her head tied up lak some ole ‘oman round the store? Nobody couldn’t git me tuh tie no rag on mah head if Ah had hair lak dat.'”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston et al., Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pp. 49.

Janie is a woman who is hidden from the world. In terms of her relation to a social context, other than being known as “Joe’s wife” (to which she is exclusively referred), she has none. When the town encourages Janie to make a speech at the welcome gathering, Joe silences her presence and belittles her identity by confining her abilities to house work. Throughout the first few chapters of the novel, Janie’s hair starts to evolve as a symbol of womanhood and a source of beauty, power, and strength. By forcing her to keep it covered, Joe is continuing to take Janie’s identity away from her, preventing her from standing on her own in society.


“Fern’s eyes said to them that she was easy. When she was young, a few men took her, but got no joy from it.“  pg. 21

Toomer distances himself from serious things in Cane, as with this passage about Fern. She’s objectified by the men, who thought of her as easy and subsequently, not good enough. This form follows through the novel, distancing himself from Africans and African Americans by not truly identifying with white or black people, and describing them as shades of purple instead of black.


“Becky was the white woman who had two Negro sons

she’s dead;they’ve gone away. The pines whisper to

Jesus. The Bible flaps its leaves with an aimless rustle

on her mound” (8)

Toomer, Jean. Cane. Liveright, 2011. Page 8.

of all the sections of prose that were prefaced by poetry, I found the most interesting and haunting poetry to be the one that proceeds “Becky”. I found it so interesting for how its meaning transforms throughout the reading of “Becky”. Upon first read of the poem, we have no reason to believe that Becky is anything but dead, yet upon reading the prose we find that she is alive, but assumed to be dead.  In addition, the final line of the poem seems to have no obvious meaning at first. Upon reading the prose, we come to the realization that it references a bible left on a mound of rubble that crushed Becky to death. Overall, the poem led to a mounting horror as I slowly pieced together what it truly meant, and I commend the use of form here to create this feeling of suspense.

Dog Days and Nights

“Her soul is like a little thrust-tailed dog that follow her, whimpering… But each night when he comes home and closes the big outside storm door, the little dog is left in the vestibule, filled with chills till morning.”

Jean Toomer, Cane, Liveright Publishing, 1923 New York. Page 40.

The repetition of these and a couple other accompanying sentences in the final paragraph represents to me a tale of 24 hours in the life of a prostitute. The first paragraph is night, the second daytime, and third night again. During the night time, she sends her soul outside while she commits her sinful acts. Even so, she is not a wicked person, evident by the line “she is large enough, I know, to find a warm spot for it.” Her soul is being warmed and kept company by the forgiveness of her morality during the day time, when she is well aware of her soul and is actively practices good deeds (“the little dog keeps coming.”)


” When one is on the soil of one’s ancestors, most anything can come to one.”

The varying form, content, and technique Toomer incorporates within Cane, allows for the . The modernism aspect to his work shows it to be a challenge to tradition with its center around African American experience in rural South and urban North. This quote from Fern, shows the stressed theme of importance to ancestral past. Toomer uses the word soil to connect to the Earth, but on a deeper level, the roots they share with their ancestors who were enslaved. The choice of words evokes an emotional connection and implies a deeper message of saying the ancestors are still present in the soil and will stay remembered.