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"Ah ain’t never seen mah papa. And Ah didn’t know ’im if Ah did. Mah mama neither. She was gone from round dere long before Ah wuz big enough tuh know. Mah grandma raised me. Mah grandma and de white folks she worked wid. She had a house out in de back-yard and dat’s where Ah wuz born. They was quality white folks up dere in West Florida. Named Washburn. She had four gran’chillun on de place and all of us played together and dat’s how come Ah never called mah Grandma nothin’ but Nanny, ‘cause dat’s what everybody on de place called her. Nanny used to ketch us in our devilment and lick every youngun on de place and Mis’ Washburn did de same. Ah reckon dey never hit us a lick amiss ‘cause dem three boys and us two girls wuz pretty aggravatin’, Ah speck.
Ah was wid dem white chillun so much till Ah didn’t know Ah wuzn’t white till Ah was round six years old. Wouldn’t have found it out then, but a man come long takin’ pictures and without askin’ anybody, Shelby, dat was de oldest boy, he told him to take us. Round a week later de man brought de picture for Mis’ Washburn to see and pay him which she did, then give us all a good lickin’.
So when we looked at depicture and everybody got pointed out there wasn’t nobody left except a real dark little girl with long hair standing by Eleanor. Dat’s where Ah wuz s’posed to be, but Ah couldn’t recognize dat dark child as me. So Ah ast, ‘where is me? Ah don’t see me.’
Everybody laughed, even Mr. Washburn. Miss Nellie, de Mama of de chillun who come back home after her husband dead, she pointed to de dark one and said, ‘Dat’s you, Alphabet, don’t you know yo’ ownself?’
Dey all useter call me Alphabet ‘cause so many people had done named me different names. Ah looked at de picture a long time and seen it was mah dress and mah hair so Ah said:
’Aw, aw! Ah’m colored!’" (2.3-8)
Janie is a stranger to herself for six years, not knowing the true nature of her racial identity. It takes a reflection of herself – almost like looking in a mirror – to discover what color her skin is. She might not have believed that she was black otherwise, without having seen it with her own eyes. This realization comes as a shock to young Janie who has lived with white children all her life and believes she is one of them. Janie seems to define herself not so much by the color of her skin, but by the community she lives with.
[Nanny]: "Whut Ah seen just now is plenty for me, honey, Ah don’t want no trashy nigger, no breath-and-britches, lak Johnny Taylor usin’ yo’ body to wipe his foots on." (2.27)
Nanny considers Johnny Taylor far below her and Janie’s station. This is apparent because she uses words like "trashy" and "breath-and-britches," implying that Johnny is poor. She equates his low social status with negative intentions toward Janie – which may or may not be the case. Still, Nanny uses social status as a way of determining a person’s value and integrity.
Ah was born back due in slavery so it wasn’t for me to fulfill my dreams of whut a woman oughta be and to do. Dat’s one of de hold-backs of slavery. But nothing can’t stop you from wishin’. You can’t beat nobody down so low till you can rob ‘em of they will. Ah didn’t want to be used for a work-ox and a brood-sow and Ah didn’t want mah daughter used dat way neither. It sho wasn’t mah will for things to happen lak they did. Ah even hated de way you was born. But, all de same Ah said thank God, Ah got another chance. Ah wanted to preach a great sermon about colored women sittin’ on high, but they wasn’t no pulpit for me. Freedom found me wid a baby daughter in mah arms, so Ah said Ah’d take a broom and a cook-pot and throw up a highway through de wilderness for her. She would expound what Ah felt. But somehow she got lost offa de highway and next thing Ah knowed here you was in de world. So whilst Ah was tendin’ you of nights Ah said Ah’d save de text for you. Ah been waitin’ a long time, Janie, but nothin’ Ah been through ain’t too much if you just take a stand on high ground lak Ah dreamed." (2.56)
Slavery, obviously, is confining. It kept Nanny from fulfilling her dreams and taking action to bring black women more respect. However, though slavery physically shackled her, Nanny claims that it couldn’t chain up a person’s will and wishes.