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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.
Through pollinated air she saw a glorious being coming up the road. In her former blindness she had known him as shiftless Johnny Taylor, tall and lean. That was before the golden dust of pollen had beglamored his rags and her eyes.
In the last stages of Nanny’s sleep, she dreamed of voices. Voices far-off but persistent, and gradually coming nearer. Janie’s voice. Janie talking in whispery snatches with a male voice she couldn’t quite place. That brought her wide awake. She bolted upright and peered out of the window and saw Johnny Taylor lacerating her Janie with a kiss. (2.16-17)
Janie’s pseudo-sexual experience under the pear tree changes her attitude towards boys. It makes her aware of her own body and her own budding sexual desires. This leads her to romanticize a boy whom she once ignored. Nanny, on the other hand, has a much more cynical vision of males. She considers men, especially unmarried ones, dangerous – as demonstrated by her use of "lacerating" to describe Johnny’s kiss for Janie.
[Nanny]: "So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule ud de world so fur as Ah can see." (2.44)
Black women, as far as Nanny can see, get the worst lot in life. While white men are highest in the hierarchy and look down on black men, the black men in turn drop the burden on the shoulders of their women. Everyone treats black women like animals.