More Thoughts on Their Eyes Were Watching God: Love + Capitalism + Patriarchy

“She (Janie) got nothing from Jody except what money could buy, and she was giving away what she didn’t value.” (p. 118)

This quote hit me hard.  In my copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God, it is underlined twice and annotated simply: “capitalism and patriarchy.”

That quote hit me hard because I’d just posted the above picture on my Tumblr.  There I was, pondering the nature of love, when I was struck by the antithetical nature of capitalism.  Capitalism commodifies and exploits.  Love edifies and uplifts.  Capitalism consumes and destroys.  Love gives and creates.  Capitalism takes and takes, while love gives and gives.  Capitalism categorizes and divides people, while love brings them together.  Similarly, love uncovers secrets and clothes our nakedness, empowering us.  Capitalism strips people and their land, displacing, disenfranchising and disempowering them.

I highly recommend that you read Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Janie morphs from a prelapsarian figure under the pear tree to a woman married to duty and a man named Logan Killicks (an expedient, pragmatic match- perfectly justifiable in a capitalistic society), to the wife of Jody Starks, the Mayor of Eatonville, perched on her pedestal.  From there, she becomes Vergible “Teacake” Woods’ beloved partner and lover.  In the end, we know her as the self-actualized woman whose freedom flouts societal mores as her hair flowed like a young woman’s.  These roles- woman, wife- do not define her.  They may flatten her and subdue her spirit for a time, but they do not define her.  It is interesting to note that Janie is assaulted at some point by all 3 men.  Logan assaults her with his gruff nature. Jody strikes her when she challenges his insecurities before the people of the Eatonville. Teacake strikes her out of jealousy.

Toward the end of her marriage to Jody Starks:

Then one day she sat and watched the shadow of herself going about tending store and prostrating itself before Jody, while all the time, she herself sat under a shady tree with the wind blowing through her hair and clothes. Somebody near about making summertime out of lonesomeness.” (119)

This passage clearly display’s Janie’s double consciousness as a Black woman in a capitalist, patriarchal society.  Her husband places her on a pedestal, expects her to fulfill the narrow fantasy of the mayor’s wife for the public, and she cries out for the acknowledgement of her true self.  “She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface, but it was kept beaten down by the wheels.” (118).  Interestingly, she returns to the site of her girlish fantasies- beneath the shade of a tree.

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her.  She saw the dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrance and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from the root to the tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.  So this was marriage! (Hurston, 24)

“Ah wants things sweet wid mah marriage lak when you sit under a pear tree and think, Ah…” (43)

It’s striking also that her new life with Teacake brings her “down” in the muck (“Down” “valley” has a great deal of significance in African-American literature, actually. See: Toni Morrison’s “Sula”) , as opposed to up on a pedestal.  He demands nothing of her but her loyalty and love.  The money is of little consequence to the man who lives day to do with little more than the clothing on his back and the ideas in his head.  Teacake does not command Janie to work, nor does he require her to.  She works of her own volition as his equal in the fields.  Their love is largely untainted by capitalistic ideas of worth.  In the end, Janie’s final act of love toward Teacake is an expedient act of mercy.  Yes, he had a jealous streak that was made more apparent by his illness (rabies), but he loved her more deeply than Logan or Jody were capable of loving her.

Most humans didn’t love one another nohow, and this mis-love was so strong that even common blood couldn’t overcome it all the time. She had found a jewel deep within herself and she had wanted to walk where people could see her and gleam it around. But she had been set in the market-place to sell.” (pg. 138)

This… I don’t know what to say to it.  I can certainly attest to the existence of our human, broken “mis-loves.”  I’ve had my share of those.

I have much to say on this topic, but I need to process it a bit more.

Let me finish with this quote:

“She didn’t read books, so she didn’t know that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop.” (pg. 119)


See Also:

Under The Pear Tree: Some Thoughts on Zora Neale Hurston and Womanism

1 Comment

  1. Great thoughts Sis, as usual! For those who have read the book, we all can see how the real love her and TeaCake shared transformed Janie into the woman that she was supposed to be. It birthed a strong empowered woman who loved her man but yet held her own identity intact.

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