Their Eyes Were Watching God
How we cite our quotes:
So Janie began to think of Death. Death, that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West. The great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof. What need has Death for a cover, and what winds can blow against him? He stands in his high house that overlooks the world. Stands watchful and motionless all day with his sword drawn back, waiting for the messenger to bid him come. Been standing there before there was a where or a when or a then. She was liable to find a feather from his wings lying in her yard any day now. She was sad and afraid too. Poor Jody! (8.16)
Janie’s conception of death is full of ironies. First, she imagines Death as an eternal being when he really introduces people to eternity. When she asks, "what winds can blow against him?" it foreshadows the deathly hurricane at the end of the novel that brings so much death among the inhabitants of the Everglades. Appropriately, though, Janie’s concept of death is a vacuum – a space "without sides and without a roof" – signaling the emptiness and eternity of death. Interestingly, she doesn’t imagine such a horrible and lonely death for Tea Cake later on.
"Listen, Jody, you ain’t de Jody ah run off down de road wid. You’se whut’s left after he died." (8.39)
For Janie, the real Joe died a long time ago when the "big voice" took over. This Joe that lies before Janie is a pitiful shadow and remnant of Joe’s former glory. Whereas the "real" Joe had substance, this Joe is only a voice.
A sound of strife in Jody’s throat, but his eyes stared unwillingly into a corner of the room so Janie knew the futile fight was not with her. The icy sword of the square-toed one had cut off his breath and left his hands in a pose of agonizing protest. Janie gave them peace on his breast, then she studied his dead face for a long time. (8.44)
Like the yellow mule, Joe does not go quietly when faced with Death. He tries to fight, but it is futile. He does not die in peace, reconciled with his crimes on earth, but "in a pose of agonizing protest." It’s also interesting that Hurston describes Joe as dying when his breath is taken away – when he no longer has his "big voice" – rather than the point when his heart stops beating. This kind of goes to show that all that was left of him was his voice, he had no heart left.