Slavery serves as the founding idea on which smaller microcosms of jailer-prisoner power structures are built. In general, women are depicted as prisoners while men are their jailers. The institution of marriage, though often lauded as a woman’s proper place, often turns out to be a space of confinement for women. For the protagonist, widowhood is a welcome freedom from her first two marriages. One’s social class, too, can be an immobilizing force. Thus, the protagonist’s social mobility enables her more freedom than a typical individual has.
Nanny and Janie hold two very different views of what freedom means; their two views intrinsically oppose each other and cannot be reconciled, which is why Nanny felt that she was freeing Janie, and Janie felt that Nanny had put a noose around her neck.