Their Eyes Were Watching God
How we cite our quotes:
Mrs. Turner was a milky sort of a woman that belonged to child-bed. Her shoulders rounded a little, and she must have been conscious of her pelvis because she kept it stuck out in front of her so she could always see it. Tea Cake made a lot of fun about Mrs. Turner’s shape behind her back. He claimed that she had been shaped up by a cow kicking her from behind. She was an ironing board with things throwed at it. Then that same cow took and stepped in her mouth when she was a baby and left it wide and flat with her chin and nose almost meeting. (16.4)
Although Tea Cake has many reasons for despising Mrs. Turner, he starts off by insulting her appearance. This shows some pettiness in Tea Cake’s character – a shallow disdain for ugliness – that readers otherwise would not expect. But the fact of the matter is that Mrs. Turner is ugly. Is Hurston trying to imply that external appearances mirror a personal internal character?
But Mrs. Turner’s shape and features were entirely approved by Mrs. Turner. Her nose was slightly pointed and she was proud. Her thin lips were an ever delight to her eyes. Even her buttocks in bas-relief were a source of pride. To her way of thinking all these things set her aside from Negroes. That was why she sought out Janie to friend with. Janie’s coffee-and-cream complexion and her luxurious hair made Mrs. Turner forgive her for wearing overalls like the other women who worked in the fields. She didn’t forgive her for marrying a man as dark as Tea Cake, but she felt that she could remedy that…her disfavorite subject was Negroes. (16.5)
What most people find abhorrent about her looks, Mrs. Turner considers a source of pride, simply because they set her apart from typical black attributes. They mark her as part-white which is better in her book than anything black. And she is attracted to Janie for the same reason. Mrs. Turner takes the differences between black and white to an aesthetic level, considering white beautiful while anything related to blackness is ugly.
"Look at me! Ah ain’t got no flat nose and liver lips. Ah’m uh featured woman. Ah got white folks’ features in mah face. Still and all Ah got tuh be lumped in wid all de rest. It ain’t fair. Even if dey don’t take us in wid de whites, dey oughta make us uh class tuh ourselves." (16.20)
To Mrs. Turner, conventional ugliness doesn’t apply. Her previously mentioned pointed nose, thin lips, and flat butt are a source of pride because she considers them to be evidence of her white bloodline. To Mrs. Turner, appearances are important because they denote social class.