Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hurston journal entry

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Chapters 19 & 20

A few things stood out to me when I re-read the ending of the novel:

1. When the hurricane comes (even though that's in chapter 18) Janie, Tea Cake, and their friends on the Muck can't interpret the warning signs. The narrator even points out that the Seminoles and the local wildlife start fleeing before the storm, but ironically the Black farm workers are lulled into a false sense of confidence because they are making good money with their work and because the Whites are not fleeing.

2. The scene is West Palm Beach where Tea Cake is forced to work burying the dead from the hurricane is one of the few places in the novel where racism is explicitly addressed. Even in death, and despite the stench of decomposition, White corpses receive better treatment than the common grave of the Blacks, and local police use their power arbitrarily to force refugees like Tea Cake to labor without pay.

3. The death of Tea Cake is a powerful scene. It's not fully clear why Janie doesn't hide the gun she finds under Tea Cake's pillow, but she is conscious enough of the fear that is taking over his mind to turn the cylinder so that three empty chambers will be the first fired. As a result, she has time to defend herself, making sure to wait until Tea Cake's intentions to harm her are clear, after he fires all three empty cylinders. Only then does she use the rifle to keep him from shooting her with a live cylinder.

4. Janie's trial is curiously understated. She tells her story to judge and jury, but rather than let us hear her testimony in her own words, the narrator summarizes, telling us "she just sat there and told and when she was through she hushed." In a law court, as at Jody's store, Janie's direct voice is absent, reminding us that the only time in the novel she has consistently had a strong, clear voice was while she was with Tea Cake.

5. And in the telling of her story to Pheoby. Inspired by Janie's recounting of her life story, especially of her time on the Muck, Pheoby says, "Ah done growed ten feet higher from jus' listening' to you, Janie." Despite Janie's grief over Tea Cake's death, she has come home satisfied to be there, having learned from her life's journey, "Two things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got to go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves." She can sit on her porch in peace, finally able to "pull in her horizon like a fish-net." (483)