Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Joe Starks (often called Jody) is Janie’s second husband and a born entrepreneur with magnetic charisma. However, he suffers from an overdose of ambition, a lack of communication, a superiority complex, and uncontrollable jealousy over Janie.
Joe’s appearance is both indicative of his true nature and also subtly misleading. Janie is first attracted to Joe for his suave stylish looks. This is an outward manifestation of Joe’s pride and confidence which leads him to dress better than those he considers his inferiors. However, his flamboyant, peacock-like attire also reveals his vanity. Indeed, Joe’s entire lifestyle revolves around his high esteem of his manhood. Joe mixes conceptions of manhood with his right to power, wealth, and authority. Thus, he considers himself perfectly justified not only in building up the town but ruling it, deciding who can live there, and whose opinion counts. His high-handed tyranny of Eatonville often has the inhabitants grumbling and comparing him to white slave masters. And indeed, Joe resembles the white man in more than one way. He is well-fed and somewhat portly, like the well-to-do bourgeois Caucasians. He also carries himself with all the confidence and authority of a man sure to get what he wants. Though Janie initially admires these attributes in Joe, she quickly finds that too much of this good thing can quickly become stifling and pretentious.
Joe’s treatment of women also defines him; he acts like women are objects to be owned and ordered around by men. This treatment of women is a double-edged sword; Joe values Janie highly as a trophy wife – for her physical beauty and ability to arouse envy in other men – but simultaneously, he views her as completely in his sphere of possession. At first, Janie only feels that Joe values her. But as she realizes that Joe values her as a possession rather than as a human being, she becomes emotionally distant. From Joe’s standpoint, since Janie is a woman, she has no intelligence, voice, or autonomy and should be entitled to none. Though much of this concept is illustrated through his treatment of Janie, Joe also enforces this philosophy on other women as well.
From the beginning, Joe makes known that he desires to be "a big voice." However, when he achieves a position of power, Joe takes it too far and, in Janie’s eyes, becomes nothing but the big voice. With this voice, Joe makes his opinions loudly known, often silencing others’ dissent, and giving his words the force of law. As Joe ages, it’s evident that speaking with the ruling tongue has taken a toll on the man; his body disintegrates. In the end, Janie speaks out and lays out all of Joe’s crimes to him on his deathbed. Like the big voice he is, Joe refuses to listen and dies cursing Janie.