The Powerful Voice of Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God
The world of Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God was one of oppression and disappointment. She left the world of her suffocating grandmother to live with a man whom she did not love, and in fact did not even know. She then left him to marry another man who offered her wealth in terms of material possessions but left her in utter spiritual poverty. After her second husband's death, she claims responsibility and control of her own life, and through her shared love with her new husband, Teacake, she is able to overcome her status of oppression. Zora Neale Hurston artfully and effectively shows this victory over oppression throughout the book through her use of language. Her use of such stylistic devices as free indidrect discourse and signifting allow her to use language as power; the power for a black woman to realize her own potential.
The voice which Hurston creates is marked by her intertwining of black vernacular and standard English to create a seemless, fluid narration. The combination of the two seemingly dichotomous aspects of language is called the "speakerly text" by Henry Louis Gates in his essay of the same name, and is also more commonly called free indirect discourse. The scene in which Mayor Starks, Janie's husband, has erected the new street lamp for the town, exemplifies Hurston's use of free indirect discourse. Janie and her husband first speak to each other using the recognizable black dialect of the region:
"Well, honey, how yuh like bein' Mrs. Mayor?"
"It's all right Ah reckon, but don't yuh think it keeps us in a kinda strain?"
The omniscient third person narrator then captures Janie's feelings about the prospect of her new life as one of her husband's showpieces like his new streetlamp in standard English: "A feeling of coldness and fear took hold of her. She felt far away from things and lonely. Janie soon began to feel the impact of awe and envy against her sensibilities. The wife ofthe mayor was not just another woman as she supposed. She slept with authority and so she was part of it in the town mind." A skillfull change in narration which combines the black dialect and the conventional narration occurs in the following quotation as the narrator shows how the towns people feel about a spittoon which Joe Starks bought for his wife:
"He bought a little lady-sized spitting pot for Janie to spit in. Had it right in the parlor with little sprigs of flowers painted on all sides...It sort of made the rest of them feel that they had been taken advantage of. Like things had been kept from them. Maybe more things in the world besides spitting pots had been hid from them, when they wasn't no better than to spit in tomato cans. It was bad enough for white people, but when one of your own color could be so different it put you on a wonder. It was like seeing your sister turn into a...