Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 2 Quotes Page 5

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Quote 13

[Nanny]: "Dat’s what makes me skeered. You don’t mean no harm. You don’t even know where harm is at. Ah’m ole now. Ah can’t be always guidin’ yo’ feet from harm and danger. Ah wants to see you married right away." (2.31)

Even though Nanny claims Janie’s womanhood has emerged, Janie is still relatively innocent; she still doesn’t "know where harm is at" and is much less prepared to defend herself against it. So Nanny’s way of protecting her is not enlightening her to the dangers around her, but marrying her off so that a man can keep her from ever discovering those dangers. It is a form of blinding her or helping her preserve what innocence she has left.

Quote 14

[Nanny]: "She [Leafy] was only seventeen, and somethin’ lak dat to happen! Lawd a’mussy! Look lak Ah kind see it all over again. It was a long time before she was well, and by dat time we knowed you was on de way. And after you was born she took to drinkin’ likker and stayin’ out nights. Couldn’t git her to stay here and nowhere else. Lawd knows where she is right now. She ain’t dead, ‘cause Ah’d know it by mah feelings, but sometimes Ah wish she was at rest." (2.73)

Nanny recalls how her own daughter, Leafy, violently lost her innocence. Leafy’s rape by her schoolteacher left the impressionable young girl deeply disturbed. Leafy, after being raped, couldn’t live a normal life because she was haunted by the memory of her violent and unwilling sexual initiation into womanhood. Thus she never develops into a fully healthy woman.

Quote 15

[Mistress of the plantation to Nanny]: "’Nigger, whut’s yo’ baby doin wid gray eyes and yaller hair?’" She begin tuh slap mah jaws ever which a’way. Ah never felt the fust ones ‘cause Ah wuz too busy gittin’ de kivver back over mah chile. But dem last lick burnt me lak fire. Ah had too many feelin’s tuh tell which one tuh follow so Ah didn’t cry and Ah didn’t do nothin’ else. But then she kept on astin me how come mah baby look white. She asted me dat maybe twenty-five or thirty times, lak she got tuh sayin’ dat and couldn’t help herself. So Ah told her, ‘Ah don’t know nothin’ but what Ah’m told tuh do, ‘cause Ah ain’t nothin’ but uh nigger and uh slave."

"Instead of pacifyin’ her lak Ah thought, look lak she got madder. But Ah reckon she was tired and wore out ‘cause she didn’t hit me no more. She went to de foot of de bed and wiped her hands on her handksher. ‘Ah wouldn’t dirty mah hands on yuh. But first thing in de mornin’ de overseer will take you to de whippin’ post and tie you down on yo’ knees and cut de hide offa yo’ yaller back. One hundred lashes wid a raw-hide on yo’ bare back. Ah’ll have you whipped till de blood runs down to yo’ heels! Ah mean to count de licks mahself. And if it kills you Ah’ll stand de loss. Anyhow, as soon as dat brat is a month old Ah’m going to sell it offa dis place.’" (2.65-66)

For a white woman during the time of slavery, the sting of having one’s husband sleep with a black slave is especially insulting because it gives credence to the idea of black women being as attractive as white ones. To add injury to insult, it brings about the supposed abomination of a mixed child – an anomaly that is difficult to classify – neither white nor black so not belonging to either world. This is the reason the lady of the house is so angry with Nanny and her child.

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