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The Black Woman's Burden In Three Novels: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Toni Mo

1980 words - 8 pages

The Black Woman's Burden

As humans living in an organized society, we are inevitably defined and viewed through the ideals created by that organizing entity. Each culture has its own view of masculinity and femininity that may vary from another culture's. The degree of difference may not be very large but it is these cultural differences that often create conflicts and struggles among certain groups of people. A quintessential example of such a struggle can be seen when observing black women in America. The adversities that black women encounter in this country are caused by the societal ideals of femininity. In American culture, though a woman can be as independent and successful as she desires, she must still conform to certain womanly ideals such as submissiveness, sexual secrecy, repressed passion, and maternity. Any deviation from these ideals leads to conflict and scrutiny. In the film, "And Still I Rise," the commentators discuss the difference between black woman and woman of other races. It is their inversion of such qualities that make them unique and interesting but also causes struggle.

Many African and African American writers and film makers attempt to capture an aspect of this struggle in their works. Some address the struggle of love for black woman, as we see in the character of Janie in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Others will focus on the maternal struggle faced by black woman in America as Sethe in Toni Morrison's Beloved embodies. The more traditional but equally valid perspective deals with racial tensions and how racism challenges the inner strength of black woman as seen in the character of Sofia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple. Each angle of discussion serves to further categorize and quantify the struggle faced by black women.

Let us first dissect the struggle of love. As a woman in American society at the time of Hurston's novel, betrothal freedom was not a privilege that women had. A man could see an attractive young girl, discuss things with her guardians, and handed over to him. A woman's love was seen as a commodity rather than a deep, intimate connection to her husband. Once married, the option of divorce was only plausible under few conditions and a lack of romance did not meet the criteria. This is the world in which Janie, Hurston's protagonist, was forced to live. Hurston created this character with the ideals of black femininity in mind. In the video, "And Still I Rise," the myths of Black women's sexuality are contextualized by the commentators. They also discuss the body image of black women saying that, in comparison to white woman, that they are full figured. A commentator joked that when a white woman would enter the African villages, the women of the village would be concerned and worry that she is sick due to her pale skin and small frame. Janie was a full figured woman who had internal feelings of love and desired to be open...

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