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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.
Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. (1.1-2)
According to Hurston, men are more practical than women; they know that their dreams are unattainable, as illustrated by the distant ships that rarely come onto shore. When they realize that their dreams are unrealistic, men become resigned to their fate and live on. On the other hand, women close that metaphorical distance by failing to distinguish between dream and reality. Their dreams are their reality and thus they live far more idealistic lives.
The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day. (1.8)
Janie’s figure evokes two very different sets of responses from the porch. The men simply lust after her and try to memorize her appearance to bring pleasure later. The women, however, driven by jealousy, look for flaws and find them in Janie’s unconventional and masculine dress, storing them up as ammunition to fire against her later.
The sun was gone…It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment. (1.4)
The narrator cites the black people of Eatonville’s lack of confidence during the day, which dissolves by night when the white "bossman [is] gone." With the departure of the white men, the black people feel more human because they are no longer treated cruelly or belittled. It’s interesting that the passage implies that the black people of Eatonville can only live out their lives when they are away from white people and surrounded with their own community.