Role of Women in Their Eyes Were Watching God and Go Tell It On the Mountain
Literature is a reflection of the community from which it comes. Understanding the role of women in the African-American community starts by examining the roles of women in African-American literature. The portrayal of women in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) and James Baldwin's Go Tell it on the Mountain (1952) provides tremendous insight into the role of African-American women.
Their Eyes Were Watching God examines the relationship between Janie and her grandmother, who plays the role of mother in Janie's life. It also looks at the different relationships that Janie had with her three husbands. Janie's grandmother was one of the most important influences in her life, raising her since from an infant and passing on her dreams to Janie. Janie's mother ran away from home soon after Janie was born. With her father also gone, the task of raising Janie fell to her grandmother, Nanny. Nanny tells Janie "Fact uh de matter, Ah loves yuh a whole heap more'n Ah do yo' mama, de one Ah did birth" (Hurston 31). Nanny's dream is for Janie to attain a position of security in society, "high ground" as she puts it (32). As the person who raised her, Nanny feels that it is both her right and obligation to impose her dreams and her ideas of what is important in life on Janie. The strong relationship between mother and child is important in the African-American community, and the conflict between Janie's idyllic view of marriage and Nanny's wish for her to marry for stability and position is a good illustration of just how deep the respect and trust runs. Janie has a very romantic notion of what marriage should be. "She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace . . . so this was a marriage," is how the narrator describes it (24). Nanny's idea of a good marriage is someone who has some standing in the community, someone who will get Janie to that higher ground. Nanny wants Janie to marry Logan Killicks, but according to her "he look like some ole skull-head in de grave yard" (28). Even more importantly to Janie, though, was the fact that "the vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree" (28). Nanny tells Janie "So you don't want to marry off decent like . . . you wants to make me suck the same sorrow yo' mama did, eh? Mah ole head ain't gray enough. My back ain't bowed enough to suit you!" (28). After they have the fight over Logan Killicks, Nanny says something, by way of an explanation of why Janie needs to marry up the social ladder, that reveals a good deal about the reality of being an African-American woman. She says "De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see" (29). Janie, out of respect for her grandmother, went off to start her role as a wife.
For the most part, Janie's experiences as a wife are typical of what many women go through, at...