“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston Commonplace-Book Entry: Janie’s Social Context of Not Fitting In While Growing Up

“‘Us lived dere havin’ fun till de chillun at school got to teasin’ me ’bout livin’ in de white folks’ back-yard. Dere wuz uh knotty head gal name Mayrella dat useter git mad every time she look at me. Mis’ Washburn useter dress me up in all de clothes her gran’chillun didn’t need no mo’ which still wuz better’n whut de rest uh de colored chillun had. And then she useter put hair ribbon on mah head fuh me tuh wear. Dat useter rile Mayrella uh lot. So she would pick at me all de time and put some others up tuh do de same. They’d push me ’way from de ring plays and make out they couldn’t play wid nobody dat lived on premises. Den they’d tell me not to be takin’ on over mah looks ’cause they mama told ’em ’bout de hound dawgs huntin’ mah papa all night long. ’Bout Mr. Washburn and de sheriff puttin’ de bloodhounds on de trail tuh ketch mah papa for whut he done tuh mah mama. Dey didn’t tell about how he wuz seen tryin’ tuh git in touch wid mah mama later on so he could marry her. Naw, dey didn’t talk dat part of it atall. Dey made it sound real bad so as tuh crumple mah feathers. None of ’em didn’t even remember whut his name wuz, but dey all knowed de bloodhound part by heart. Nanny didn’t love tuh see me wid mah head hung down, so she figgered it would be mo’ better fuh me if us had uh house. She got de land and everything and then Mis’ Washburn helped out uh whole heap wid things.’”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, page 9-10.

This passage shows that Janie does not quite fit in with the white people around her, nor the black people either. She always thought that she was white when she was little, because she grew up in similar circumstances as them and used to play with them. However, in the passage above, it can be seen that some white children like Mayrella began to get jealous that a black girl wore nice clothes and accessories like white girls did, such as more expensive dresses and ribbons to wear in her hair that Janie received from Miss Washburn, and started to make fun of her a lot. Janie also does not seem to fit in with the rest of the black children, either, because she did not live in the same neighborhood or circumstances as they did, since she was able to wear nicer clothes than they could, and did not have to work hard like them to get what she had in life, because her grandma and Miss Washburn were able to help her live a more luxurious and relaxing life than most other black families were able to, by buying a nice house in a nice neighborhood for her to live in. So in the social context of being able to relate to others, Janie does not seem to fully belong in the white crowd or fully belong in the black crowd, since she does not have the same experience as either of them, which might have made her feel like an outcast while growing up. This could explain why Janie seems to connect more with nature than other people later on in the book.

Commonplace-Book Entry: “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston, Janie’s Social Context in a New Town

“Janie soon began to feel the impact of awe and envy against her sensibilities. The wife of the Mayor was not just another woman as she had supposed. She slept with authority and so she was part of it in the town mind. She couldn’t get but so close to most of them in spirit.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, page 46.

In this text, it shows how much Janie does not understand about the social contexts of being a woman seen as part of authority and is starting to realize what the effects of that are among other people in the town. By stating that she thought of a Mayor’s wife as any other woman, this means that Janie must not have been close to any higher up people or have been around people who would know or talk about any higher up or upper class people, or even those of authority. Or perhaps, because she was raised around white families and children, she was able to be around only other higher class people, without being exposed to the other classes of people very often, so she would only be exposed to the relationships, talks, and judgement of those that she was raised around, and most likely, she was never seen as above any of those people because of her race, but rather she would be seen as an equal in her case, especially because she said that she did not feel any different than the white children. However, now that she is living among those of her own race and is the wife of Joe, who has proclaimed himself as this new town’s mayor, Janie is seeing for the first time the effects of being treated as higher than those around her. So, perhaps within Janie’s social context where she grew up in a tight circle of people and feeling like she was equal with everybody, either because she was never exposed to those of higher authority or because she was only around and apart of higher class people, is why she never expected the wife of a mayor to be treated differently than any other woman. She is now living with different people in a different place than she was always used to, so I feel that it would be understandable that Janie would not feel as close to them in spirit already, but with her being introduced into the town as the wife of a man who tries to take authority over the town right away, who also doesn’t allow her to make big speeches, I feel that this is also what is making it harder for Janie to socially connect with any of the other women in town. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Social Context, Bryant Magdaleno

“Janie asked inside of herself and out. She
was back and forth to the pear tree continuously wondering and thinking. Finally out of Nanny’s talk and her own conjectures she made a
sort of comfort for herself. Yes, she would love Logan after they were
married. She could see no way for it to come about, but Nanny and the
old folks had said it, so it must be so. Husbands and wives always
loved each other, and that was what marriage meant.”

Hurston, Zora Neale, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pg 23.

Within the text Janie is internalizing the thought of marrying Logan, so with the help of Nanny’s talk to her she creates this thought of social expectation upon herself to justify in her mind her marriage. Janie thinks that love should be and is part of marriage as husband and wife, and the circumstance would not stop this idea of love even if it would be a delayed reaction from her marriage to him . Janie creates this social context on how the outside world would view them as married couple, to her and others they must be in love with each and thus she forces upon herself this idea no matter way they start she will learn to love him. Its within her social context of the idea of marriage and how she images it to be played. The reality she later faces bring her to a harsh realization that the within the social context of her marriage that she does not love Logan which later bring her to break this concept she used to justify her loveless relationship.