I’ve been sick for the past three days but I think I feel a bit better. Didn’t go to work. Just laid around and watched television. Finished House of Cards. Still watching Friends an episode day. And I just added Veronica Mars to the list. I’m not really interested in the crime stuff (as of yet) but the movie trailer’s focus on Veronica and her bad boy ex-boyfriend Logan made me go “yesss.” If you read my last post, you know I take tv relationships seriously. And Veronica and Logan are pretty intriguing, especially since they hated each other’s guts in the beginning.
Anyway I was also reading my latest book “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston. I had wanted to read a famous African American lit novel, and seeing as how February is Black History Month, it was fitting to read it now. It’s a pretty short book, one that I did not buy actually, but rather, took out of the library. I usually underline quotes I like in my books, but I couldn’t do that this time. Instead I’ll just put them up here along with the rest of my review.
The book starts off with this quote:
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
The story is about the life of Janie, a young black woman living in the early 1900s in Florida. She is in her late teens when one day her grandma catches her kissing a boy. Her grandmother sees this as a dangerous sign. Nanny is quite old and feels that her days are numbered. She could not possibly leave her only granddaughter alone, for it mite bring Janie in danger.
She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making.
Nanny’s story was really sad. She was born a slave and was so for many years. Her master used to have sex with her routinely, and she eventually had a child. Her mistress was livid when she saw the baby was light skinned, and had Nanny whipped. Nanny couldn’t win. She was a sex toy for one person, and a boxing bag for another. She was saved though when Northerners came down and set the slaves free. She then lived with a nice white family in Florida. Her daughter grew up, but one day came home very late. She had been raped by her teacher, and later bore Janie. Janie’s mother fell to despair and drinking, and ran off somewhere. She’s out of the picture for good.
There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought. Nanny entered this infinity of conscious pain again on her old knees. Towards morning she muttered, “Lawd, you know mah heart. Ah done de best Ah could do. De rest is left to you.” She scuffled up from her knees and fell heavily across the bed. A month later she was dead.
Nanny raised Janie up and based on all the horrors she has seen women, black women in particular went through, she had to see that Janie would be shielded from that. She pressured Janie to marry a respectable man named Logan. Janie did so reluctantly, but she was unhappy. She did not love Logan.
“Folkses, de sun is goin’ down. De Sun-maker brings it up in de mornin’, and de Sun-maker sends it tuh bed at night. Us poor weak humans can’t do nothin’ tuh hurry it up nor to slow it down. All we can do, if we want any light after de settin’ or befo’ de risin’, is tuh make some light ourselves. So dat’s how come lamps was made. Dis evenin’ we’se all assembled heah tuh light uh lamp.” — Joe
One day, a man named Joe came by and they struck up a friendship. Logan always wanted Janie to work alongside with him. Joe said he would treat her like a lady. She admired his determined, getting-things-done attitude. So she left Logan, married Joe or Jody, and went off to live with him in a newly built town for blacks.
So she sat on the porch and watched the moon rise. Soon its amber fluid was drenching the earth, and quenching the thirst of the day.
Her relationship with Jody dissolves however. Jody is very controlling and very patriarchal. He doesn’t think women can talk for themselves or do anything. Janie feels closed in and bored, and grows resentful. Somehow about 20 years pass by, and their relationship is still nonexistent. He dies and she is left with a new freedom. By now she like 40.
One day, a man named Tea Cakes comes into Jody’s old store, where Janie has been working for 20 years. He and Janie hit it off. He is a very charming man and they fall for each other. He is half her age though, so people find it strange. They doubt his intentions, especially since Janie has money. Despite that, she marries him for a third time, and moves away with him.
He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.
With Tea Cake, Janie finally gets the love she was always searching for. Tea Cake adores Janie. Treats her like his queen. They have a very passionate love, though it’s not without it’s bizarre aspects. When Tea Cake is jealous when a neighbor wants her brother to meet Janie, Tea Cake beats Janie. He doesn’t do this to punish her. He does this show everyone, especially the neighbors, that Janie is his. He owns her. And she likes the beating apparently. Basically some sadomasochistic-like crap.
It is so easy to be hopeful in the day time when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in his hands.
They live happily for a couple years, until a hurricane hits the area. They (stupidly) did not leave despite warnings. They managed to flee amongst flooding, but Tea Cake got bit by a dog at one point. He ended up catching rabies, and slowly mania overtook him. He was not the same man Janie had loved. She couldn’t bare to have him suffer before his imminent death. He tried killing her with his gun a few times, but she ended up shooting him. She was tried immediately, but was let go. People were saddened by the story. Everyone knew how much Tea Cake and Janie had loved each other.
Everytime Ah see uh patch uh roses uh somethin’ over sportin’ they selves makin’ out they pretty, Ah tell ’em ‘Ah want yuh tuh see mah Janie sometime.’ You must let de flowers see yuh sometimes, heah, Janie? — Tea Cake
Janie went back to her old house with Jody. The ending had a sad happiness to it. She was alone now. The love of her life was gone. And yet she was so grateful to have had Tea Cake in her life, to feel love before it was too late.
What I liked about the book was the descriptive, lyrical language, and also the story of finding love and using it as a driving force in life. Janie was truly content after having found love and she felt free to embrace the world.
They wrestled on until they were doped with their own fumes and emanations; till their clothes had been torn away; till he hurled her to the floor and held her there melting her resistance with the heat of his body, doing things with their bodies to express the inexpressible; kissed her until she arched her body to meet him and they fell asleep in sweet exhaustion.
The story also touched upon big race issues. Three stuck out in particular. One is the prejudice of black people against other blacks. One neighbor Mrs. Turner, was very light. She went on a rant about how she didn’t like dark blacks, and how she hated the way they yelled and laughed out loud. She found them uncivilized. Janie was “coffee colored” and Mrs. Turner had wanted Janie to get with her brother. Tea Cake was too black for Janie (which led to Tea Cake getting very jealous and mad). Mrs. Turner resented how even light colored people were considered black. Interestingly, she does not like Booker T. Washington, who was hated by many blacks for his more “mannered” ways with white people. I read Washington’s “Up From Slavery” in high school, and apparently many of his contemporaries had issues with him playing nice with the whites. But I thought his approach was one way to go about it. Not everyone has to be a “fighter.” Washington stressed education of black people, which is a legitimate approach.
Also, after the hurricane, Tea Cake was forced by white men to bury the dead. White people would get coffins. Blacks would not. And they better not have mixed them up, said the white men.
They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.
Lastly, after Janie got out of trial, she overheard her black friends talking to each other. They said she got away with it because she was lucky. If she had accidentally killed a white man, she would’ve been hanged, no doubt. Or if the shooter was a black man and not a woman, he would have been hanged with no question.
“…you know whut dey say ‘uh white man and uh nigger woman is de freest thing on earth.’ Dey do as dey please.”
While the book for me, mainly struck me for it’s search for love story, it was interesting to read about black relations. There were no major white characters. The one point that irked me was when Janie thought of how much she hated and pitied her grandmother, who had forced her to marry a man she never wanted. I can understand why she would resent her grandmother, but her feelings are too harsh. Nanny had gone through much. I think it’s natural for any woman who went through what she did to protect her own. There were harsh realities for a black woman. At least Janie did not have to suffer through anything extreme like what her grandma and her mother went through.
Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. Of course he wasn’t dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.