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A conflict is a literary device that creates a struggle between a protagonist and an antagonist. In the first chapter the conflict is primarily depicted between Jenie and the town folks. When Jenie returns home to Eatonville, everybody around is gossiping about her. She wears overalls thinking that it will make her more like men in the town. However, everybody around wonders what happened to her beautiful dresses. The town people represent the cruel crowd that is too obsessed with the social norms to accept the girl and actually genuinely care for her. They only care about the fact that she trespassed those conventions. Jenie in her return is not willing to justify herself (Hurston 25).
Despite the grave circumstances, she shows remarkable resilience in opposing the people around. Jenie has just lost the man she loves, therefore her heart is writhing in pain. Men who are looking at her as she is passing by assume the worst about her and admire her feminine figure. Nobody is brave enough to just come up to her and ask about what has happened. People just presuppose that she is aloof and arrogant.
Only her friend Phoebe is willing to support her in the times of grief. The author emphasizes the protagonist’s strength and desire to continue living. The woman is presented as almost impervious to her suffering that is the inevitable result of such a great loss. Nonetheless, she is also human, and therefore is not able to conceal her story from her best friend. In this conflict Phoebe is presented as a link between two opposing camps – Jenie and town’s people (Hurston 122).
The whole scene is like the canvas for a long, complicated and possibly dismal story that is waiting for the reader In the next chapters. The author has drawn the line between the public opinion the protagonist, and that line is soon expending to the size of a chasm. Those stereotypes and conventions are like the invisible, but pervasive veil that prevents the common sense from penetrating the reality. The reader faces the Woman and the Crowd, and is eager to know the story behind this confrontation.
Everybody has his own reality, his own universe of thoughts, dreams and experiences that is called life. Jenie’s Grandmother had her own reality as well and tried to impose it on her granddaughter. Unfortunately, Jenie was too young and naïve to challenge her grandmother’s commands.
Jenie’s Grandmother had a hard life filled with pain, humiliation and deception. She grew up in slavery, and it definitely affected her personality irreversibly. Childhood memories stay with people throughout their lives. Nobody grows out of their childhood fears, mistakes and punishments. A person may not realize it, but he is always succumbed to his own bad experiences and uses them as a lens through which he evaluates the world. Naturally, everybody tries to become a better human being and readjust his views to ameliorate his condition, but in critical moments he would resort to the past memories and let them determine the future.
Jenie never wanted any mischief for her lovely granddaughter. However, after she had seen Jenie kissing another guy, something broke inside her. The Grandmother’s decision dawned on her suddenly live an avalanche. Although, it was all coming down to this, she desisted because of the understanding how it would crush her granddaughter’s hopes and dreams. However, in her eyes it was the necessity that is predetermined by the inherent state of a woman, especially a black woman. She was looking for protection for her granddaughter, that neither she nor her daughter could enjoy.
Jenie in her turn felt like her pear tree was desecrated by such dreary prospects. In her daydreams she felt that she would soon be blossoming with love like the pear tree. The Grandmother being an experienced and battered woman spotted the metamorphosis. She wanted to protect her even by sacrificing her granddaughter’s happiness. Comparing the young black woman to a mule, the Grandmother underscored the helplessness of a woman despite her inner strength and desire to resist. A woman can never be one’s own property in the eyes of society. Unfortunately, this outlook was pertinent to those times (Hurston 77).
All the things considered, the Grandmother wanted to prevent her young and inexperienced granddaughter from making the same mistakes she did. However, her perspectives were outdated and therefore harmful for Jenie. Nonetheless, her goal was noble, and cannot be condemned.
The theme of light evolves in the 5th chapter in both figurative and literal aspects. For instance, Tony Taylor compares Joe's wife Jennie to the light in their home. Joe Starks, who is also a newly elected mayor of the town, organizes the installment of the light lamps around the town. Light is the symbol of the new life and new beginnings. The town's life ameliorated exponentially as soon as Joe arrived. He was very active and ambitious in establishing the new institutions like the post office or the store. One of the town's men said that he did not even need the throne to be the ruler because he had it in his pants. Joe Starks was a born leader, and everybody in the town respected him, to the point of admiration.
He brought light to their homes. Light represented not only the lamps that enabled the night life in the town, but also the civilization. This town was meant to be for Afro-Americans only, so that the white people do not dictate their authority to them. However, in the book one can see the proof that the authority is not denominated by the skin color, but by the personality. The inception of a powerful man, who assumed responsibility not only for the town's development, but for people's lives primarily, was simply impressive and iconic.
Joe Starks did not just want to escape the white people's oppression. Of course, the slavery was over at that time. Nonetheless, Afro-Americans still did not feel equal in the opportunities available and the attitude given comparing to their white counterparts. Therefore, they evaded it by building their own town. However, they were not induced into making this town a metropolis. Their goals were vague, and their ambitions were low. Joe Starks really stirred the still water by introducing his brave plans and reforms that were implemented in a very resolute manner (Hurston 110).
However, the light of civilization sparks the envy which is the inherent basal feeling of all human beings, no matter how good and well-meaning. Subordination that is the inevitable result of authority and any kind of distinction generated strain and aloofness in the relationship with town folks. Joe could even banish the people who were not hard working or obedient enough which lead to the constant fear and secrecy. It is palpable that they all longed for equality and were lenient to admit that it was a utopia. It was one more proof to the Animal Farm popular saying “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than the others.”
Jennie in her turn felt it even more poignantly as she was not so obsessed with those far-reaching plans as her husband. She was just a woman who wanted to be loved, but all she got was pride and ambition. Moreover, Jennie was hurt by the way her husband treated her, even though she did not fully comprehend it herself. For example, when Tony Taylor asked her to give a speech, and her husband did not let her, she was befuddled. From the one side, she never really wanted it, but something about it was disconcerting to her. Jennie felt like she was deprived of something, of something incomprehensible like proving herself not only as a woman in the kitchen, but as a personality. However, at that time it did not come to her mind, it merely touched her heart.
Thus, in the fifth chapter the author suggests the interpretation of the light as a symbol of civilization and womanhood. He also shows how this “civilization” can be detrimental to people's relationships as it may ruin the sense of community, unity and equality. Besides, the writer portrays a woman who is gradually growing up to the realization of her humiliating role in the society of men.
Jennie knew from her previous experience that marriage did not bring love. However, she flew with Joe Starks for she was rather impressed with his youthful passion and hoped for a change. Unfortunately, Joe Starks proved to be even a worse tyrant than her ex-husband.
In Joe’s opinion Jennie as a woman had to be submissive to him. He made her work in the store that she hated to so much. He paid no heed to her womanhood and especially personality. The schism in their relationship was getting more and more visible throughout the years. However, Joe took no effort to stop it; vice versa he was blaming it all on his wife.
Jennie had been trying to resist at the beginning, although it did her no good. Sparks was getting more fierce and violent towards her degrading her for the smallest gaffes. Jennie soon realized that no confrontation could sway her husband’s outlook on women. Therefore, she decided to hide her pain in the dimmest corners of her heart, lest her husband would break her. Jennie felt like it was not the end, and that she would have another chance in future again.
Jennie is often distinguished by the author as a personality who has more feeling and sympathy than others around. For example, when people mocked the poor mule that was overworked by those people to death, she did not join in the overall chat. She whispered her thoughts unconsciously, but her husband heard her. Apparently, at that moment he grasped the immensity of his wife’s grace and kindness, but he just used it to his advantage. Joe Sparks bought the mule in this way freeing him and enhancing his profile. However, he did not drop a single word about his wife’s involvement. (Hurston 53)
Joe Starks did not want Jennie to mingle with other folks not only because he deemed himself higher and more noble than the others. He also saw that she had a much more delicate heart and approach to life situations which could impede his authority. Joe Sparks saw his wife as a rival, especially after everybody admitted her rhetoric skills. In his view it was a shame and a challenge for his manhood, for this reason he was trying hard to trample on his wife’s dignity and self-respect. Joe did not see Jennie as a self-sustained personality because he like most men believed that women were just complimentary to the society lead by men.
After Joe passed away, everybody told her that she should find a new husband again. She was only smiling at such comments because the freedom that she got was not something to trade for marriage. Jennie never experienced it before, and it was a healing loneliness, albeit she still sometimes shuddered at the thought that Joe would come in and criticize her publicly again. Having untied her hair again, she got a lot of male attention, but she was not a naïve young girl anymore (Hurston 104).
With regards to the aforementioned, the marriage was bound to end this way. It was not because there was no love because Joe Sparks was extremely jealous and afraid to lose his lovely wife in the beginning. It was the result of stereotypes and tags put on women in the society where things like racial or gender equality were still only on the paper. It was the time of the formation of a new framework of mind, and the new ideas needed time to penetrate through the network of people’s bias, arrogance and stupidity.
Jennie never let anybody bury her hopes and dreams. Even after two destructive marriages, she did not lose her fortitude. Jennie looked forward to the future and did not run away from the man who treated her like she always wanted. Perhaps, this inner strength and resilience attracted Tea Cake to her.
Jennie did not have the fresh beauty of the youth, although her hair was just as titillating for men’s imagination as before. She was a woman in her forties. However, despite her late husband claiming that she was old, Jennie knew that she was in her prime. When Tea Cake first offered to teach her to play checkers that along made him stand out in comparison to the locals. Her new suitor was not appealing to her beauty in his courting, but he was just trying to be friends with her first. Tea Cake did not try to convince her that a woman cannot survive without a man in this way emphasizing her inferiority like others did. He was actually admiring her strength and independence, and saw her as a partner, and not as his assistant.
Obviously, Jennie was cautious in the beginning because the guy was 12 years younger than her. However, she waited for it for so long in her dreams to be apprehensive for long. Jennie let her feelings win the day taking small steps in the name of love. Of course, it looked precarious and reckless for the beholder, but after so many years Jennie learned to trust herself. She hated her Grandmother for taking no note of her opinion when deciding upon her future. In this case, at least she knew she was acting on her own behalf.
Possibly, Tea Cake was acute enough to perceive Jennie’s distinctiveness. He felt how happy he made her by his unaffected and jovial treatment. Others around disparaged him for his idle way of living, but Jennie had had enough with men devoted to their work. She felt like for Tea Cake did not evaluate her only in regards to her beauty or usefulness in home affairs. He sought to make her happy, and in his frivolous cheerfulness reminded Jennie of her smoldering hopes to find a simple love. Besides, for the first time in her life she did not feel like man was trying to lower her self-esteem arguing that any other woman would kill to be in her place, just because he got the money. Jennie loved being one’s own person again (Hurston 55).
Maybe, it was inconsiderate and rebellious, but Jennie let the new love blossom in her heart. Tea Cake could not suppress it either. It was a relief to see the development of their relationship after so much pain and negativity. Jennie was eventually treated not only as an attractive, but subservient woman. She met a long-awaited equal attitude, and it made her heart melt.
People have different expectations from life and love. As Jennie asserts in the last chapter, love is like the sea taking the shape of the person it strikes. She always felt something was amiss in her life, and she always looked for a way to remedy the situation. Thanks to Tea Cake she fulfilled her dream and, after he was gone, she could look at everything from a different perspective. She was no more a sullen woman looking for a change. Janie experienced a true happiness and through it acquired strong convictions about life, death and love.
Horizon is a symbol of hope for a better future. Janie always felt limited in the world she was obliged to live as a mayor’s wife. She never craved status, on the contrary, it encumbered and entrapped her. Janie wanted to get out of the four walls and live differently. She lived in an anticipation of something that would sweep away the past and give me to the future. After Tea Cake arrived in her town, her life got into its best phase.
However, she loved him dearly, and when he was gone, she did not expect anything from the future anymore. Janie reached her horizon, her ever-lasting hope for love, romance, and equality. After it crushed on her, all she could do was just wrapping around those memories and living in gratitude that she could find her place in life. (Hurston 60-65). As she claimed before, most people are not lucky enough to live as they always dreamt about.
Janie grew wise since she could live through true love, a frightening catastrophe and a loss of the man she loved. All these events ruined her happiness, but they made her calm and resigned. Janie has no envy for those couples who were still together, as she was not comparing her case to that of other people. She believed that it was a bad habit. Trying to readjust their lives to the general standards, people very often disregard things that could make them happy. Janie learned that a hard time.
In her novel Zora Hurston presents a woman who is not content with her life, but remains hopeful and striving. Janie has guts to change her condition despite the unfavorable circumstances that meant to break her. However, she did not give up, proving to be an atypical blues character. This atypical structure has shown that she is a transgressive character who alters her situation instead of being bound by her life.
In his critical piece on the character, James Baldwin in his “Uses of the blues” draws attention to the marginal members of the society who are often ignored by the high and the mighty. The critic claims that such people resort to the lowest methods to pacify themselves because they just did not learn to try any better. They want to feel cool and complete, but after the fleeting effect is gone the anguish eats at them again. Such people cannot be the functional members of the society because they have been discarded and forsaken by those who assume they are better. Nonetheless, he also believes that it is because nobody really questions what would be if he were in that poor man’s shoes (Baldwin).
Blues in this case serves not as an art style, but as a tool that deepens and widens the void inside their hearts. Through blues there people try to express their feelings, to ease the pain by sharing it with the world. Unfortunately, the world chose to be cozy and deaf. The society is more willing to encapsulate the danger than to treat it. In its individualism people forget that the world is interconnected and one cannot find a safe harbor for his egotistic self. One must have humility to accept the world’s imperfection as well as his own. One must have courage to face those people no matter how melancholy and spoiled they are. One must have patience dealing with those people trying to adapt them to the civilized world, which I would rather call a moderate world. Unfortunately, only the few undertake such brave steps; most just stir the air with their empty talks.
Janie was not depressed throughout the novel. Unlike a typical blues character she did not become completely weary of life and apathetic about the future. On the contrary, she tried to preserve the best she had inside intact for the true feeling she had been waiting for half of the lifetime. Of course, there was a period in her life when she was more of a robot than of a human being. For instance, when Joe Sparks tried to make her submissive, Janie soon renounced her desire to establish herself as a personality. She saw that it only got her limited husband more furious and, therefore, decided to just play by (Hurston). Janie often contemplated about the injustice that turned a woman into a mere object for admiration or a helping tool. However, she never got so frustrated as to think about suicide or even assume that it cannot be different.
People in Janie’s society had deflated opinion about themselves. They aimed for the material things in life because those were appreciated in the society. However, they never stopped to think about what they want. In order to avoid this toll, Janie chose self-exile. It was a kind of psychological ghetto that she walled against the external world. She did not let people overcome her. That was a kind of deception at some point while she pretended to be a happy house wife for quite a long time. There was no love between her and Joe Starks anymore, however, they did not show it in public. The failure of their marriage was their mutual fault. Janie just chose the less of two evils, but she was disrespectful of her husband’s expectations, no matter how constricted they were. Joe Starks in his turn never really cared for Janie. He had some feelings towards her, but they were not generous or noble. Those feelings were more animalistic. For instance, Joe Starks was extremely jealous and possessive when he found out that other men were admiring Janie’s beauty in the town. However, he never tried to act on his feelings, and it made Janie distance herself from him. Joe Starks despised fun and romance as the human vices. He wanted to be more sophisticated than that (Hurston 95-110).
Another important aspect about this novel is the racial tension. The Grandmother wanted Janie to become a lady because she grew up in slavery. She saw those beautiful Southern Belles sitting on the porches like the queens, and she worshiped it as the ideal life. The Grandmother still had it ingrained in her mind, despite the fact that slavery was abolished a long time ago. She grew up under lash, fearing for her life, let alone for her happiness. When basic needs are not satisfied, one cannot really philosophize. Therefore, she saw Janie’s young beauty as a threat to her and wanted to protect her granddaughter. The Grandmother wanted to see her Janie obtaining the status of a lady so that she can avoid the fate of a black woman. Unfortunately, it was a blunder, but she cannot be blamed for that.
Another example is the hurricane and its aftermath. People did not want to evacuate before the catastrophe despite the perilous auguries. They believed the opinion of the white folks who did not leave their houses, and not the Indians. All Indians left the place, but not a lot of people followed them because of the racial prevalence of the white people’s views. Besides, when it came to the restoration of the place, coffins were only made for the white people. It was forbidden to bury the black man in the coffin because there were not enough of them. This was segregation even after death, and it was a deplorable thing.
Taking everything into consideration, Janie can be regarded as a blues character as well as a trespassing one. She does not fall victim to the society, but she tricks it out of its role. Janie is being discreet about her true feelings and views, and when it is the right time she jumps at the opportunity and leaves the bitter life behind. She steps out of the frame of a typical blues character and thanks to her patience and optimism, she attains her goals.
Baldwin, James. "The Uses of Blues." 1 Jan. 1964. Print.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Library, Etc., 200. Print.
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