Social Context in Hurston’s “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. “Youse 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. ‘Taint no earthly use. They jus’ some punny humans playin’ round de toes uh Time” (Hurston 53-54).

This is a loaded moment. Jody creates an entire social hierarchy by shielding his wife from the poor but good-spirited men. Jody refuses to let Janie blossom and she wants to be members of both societies; the established and matronly mayor’s wife and the easy-going and talkative townsfolk. Jody does this out of an unhealthy jealousy and protection as well as his hubris (which the townspeople notice frequently). Jody puts himself atop of everyone in his hierarchy and his wife needs to be a reflection of that. So ultimately, Janie is stuck in between and is getting restless.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pages 53-54