In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God the character of Nanny dies in the beginning of Janie’s adventures, but her influence is felt throughout the book. In this way, she is a minor character with effects on the major character. This makes Nanny important. The reader learns a lot about Nanny in last paragraph of chapter two, mainly from her dialogue, including unique syntax and diction, and imagery.
“And, Janie, maybe it wasn’t much, but Ah done de best Ah kin by you. Ah raked and scraped and bought dis lil piece uh land so you wouldn’t have to stay in de white folks’ yard and tuck yo’ head befo’ other chillun at school. Dat was all right when you was little. But when you got big enough to understand things, Ah wanted you to look upon yo’self. Ah don’t want yo’ feathers always crumpled by folks throwin’ up things in yo’ face. And ah can’t die easy thinkin’ maybe de menfolks white or black is makin’ a spit cup outa you: Have some sympathy fuh me. Put down easy, Janie, Ah’m a cracked plate.” Last Paragraph in Chapter 2
Nanny’s dialogue is indicative of her time and place, which allows a fuller picture of her aside from physical descriptions. The reader can tell that Nanny is a black woman from the South, just by her syntax. Examples include the “Ah done de best Ah kin by you,” which is not the way a white person from the North would phrase this statement. In the next sentence, this image of Nanny is upheld by her construction, “Ah raked and scraped and bought. . .” which is not the simplest or most common way of phrasing this statement. The diction used in these regional constructions further supports Nanny’s image. Examples of this include “Ah done” instead of “I’ve done,” “dis lil piece uh land,”instead of “this little piece of land,” or “yo'” replacing “your.”
In Nanny’s talk with Janie, she includes much imagery to support her statements. Examples include, “Ah don’t want yo’ feathers always crumpled.. .,” Ah can’t die easy thinkin’ maybe de menfolks. . . makin’ a spit cup outa you,” and”Ah’m a cracked plate.”This imagery is indicative of an upbringing involving many stories, often involving hyperbole. It is a figurative style of speech common in this culture, one which carries on today in the form of such phenomena as “dozens” and “lying sessions.
Finding Hope in Their Eyes Were Watching God
Finding Hope in Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God recognizes that there are problems to the human condition, such as the need to possess, the fear of the unknown and resulting stagnation. But Hurston does not leave us with the hopelessness of Fitzgerald or Hemingway, rather, she extends a recognition and understanding of humanity’s need to escape emptiness. “Dem meatskins is got tuh rattle tuh make out they’s alive (183)” Her solution is simple: “Yuh got tuh go there tuh know there.” Janie, like characters in earlier novels, sets out on a quest to make sense of her inner questionings–a void she knew she possessed from the moment she sat under the pear tree. “She found an answer seeking her, but where?…where were the shining bees for her (11)?” Though tragedy invades her life, it does not cripple her, but strengthens her. Alone at novel’s end, having loved and lost, Janie sits in her home, banished of the “feeling of absence and nothingness (183).” Her road to discover led to herself, and she gains a better understanding of the world she lives in and how small a thing happiness is comprised of: “If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don’t keer if you die at dusk. It’s so many people never seen de light at all. (151)” Instead of Hurston portraying racial unwholeness, she portrays the African American as being racially healthy. She was discarded by the black writing movement of the 30’s and 40’s for picturing the African-American as whole instead of downtrodden, oppressed people. Hurston was no militant, out to prove no theory. Capturing the essence of Black womanhood was more important to her than social criticism.
Comparison of Hurston’s life and work is ironic. Though Janie, having…
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Johnson, Barbara. “Metaphor, Metonymy and Voice in Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Kubitschek, Missy Dehn. ” ‘Tuh de Horizon and Back’: The Female Quest in Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Pondrom, Cyrena N. “The Role of Myth in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” American Literature 58.2 (May 1986): 181-202.
Wright, Richard. “Review of Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Zora Neale Hurston – Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Eds. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and K. A. Appiah. New York: Amistad, 1993