Janie’s Self Perception In Their Eyes Were Watching God

691 words - 3 pages

In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, the character of Janie Crawford experiences severe ideological conflicts with her grandmother, and the effects of these conflicts are far-reaching indeed. Hurston’s novel of manners, noted for its exploration of the black female experience, fully shows how a conflict with one’s elders can alter one’s self image. In the case of Janie and Nanny, it is Janie’s perception of men that is altered, as well as her perception of self. The conflict between the two women is largely generational in nature, and appears heart-breakingly inevitable.
Hurston’s Nanny has seen a lot of trouble in her life. Once a slave, Nanny tells of being raped by her master, an act from which Janie’s mother was brought into the world. With a crushing sense of personal sacrifice, Nanny tells sixteen-year-old Janie of hiding the light skinned baby from an angry, betrayed slave master’s wife. Young Janie listens to Nanny’s troubles thoughtfully, but Hurston subtly lets the reader know that Nanny’s stern, embittered world view does not have much to do with Janie’s pear trees and buzzing bees (Hurston’s symbols of a rewarding, self-fulfilling relationship). Hurston highlights the conflict well, changing from a creative, curious tone (as Janie plays in the meadow and lies under a pear tree) to Nanny’s tired, aching speeches. Nanny further details an already sad tale, explaining to the reader (and Janie) that Janie’s mother was also raped, by a schoolteacher. Janie is seeking something and has yet to experience the greatness she is beginning to see in the world’s possibilities (as she tells her “kissin’ friend” Phoebe later on, “Yuh got tuh go there to know there.”) Nanny is seeking to “love” Janie by reining her in and marrying her off to a man (Logan Killicks) whose most attractive feature is his acreage. Janie’s quest, which is the underlying theme of the book, begins here.

Too young to fully realize her hatred of Nanny’s choking actions, Janie marries Logan. But soon she is off, true to her free-minded self. It is interesting to note that Hurston does not dwell...

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