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So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment. (1.3)
It is significant that Janie’s story begins with death because her life revolves around metaphoric deaths and rebirths. Because death is the start of the novel, it clues us into the fact that death is also generally a new beginning for Janie. Death is also related to judgment – but who are the dead bodies judging, themselves or others?
[Nanny]: "Tain’t Logan Killicks Ah wants you to have, baby, it’s protection. Ah ain’t gittin’ ole honey. Ah’m done ole. One mornin’ soon, now, de angel wid de sword is gointuh stop by here. De day and de hour is hid from me, but it won’t be long. Ah ast de Lawd when you was uh infant in mah arms to let me stay here till you got grown. He done spared me to see de day. Mah daily prayer now is tuh let dese golden moments rolls on a few days longer till Ah see you safe in life.
"Lemme wait, Nanny, please, jus’ a lil bit mo’."
"Don’t think Ah don’t feel wid you, Janie, ‘cause Ah do. Ah couldn’t love yuh no more if Ah had uh felt yo’ birth pains mahself. Fact uh de matter, Ah loves yuh a whole heap more’n Ah do yo’ mama, de one Ah did birth. But you got to take in consideration you ain’t no everyday chile like most of ‘em. You ain’t got no papa, you might jus’ as well say no mama, for de good she do yuh. You ain’t got nobody but me. And mah head is ole and tilted towards de grave. Neither can you stand alone by yo’self. De thought uh you bein’ kicked around from pillar tuh post is a hurtin’ thing. Every tear you drop squeezes a cup uh blood outa mah heart. Ah got tuh try and do for you befo’ mah head is cold." (2.52-54)
Nanny isn’t afraid of death, but afraid of having unfinished business when she does die. She considers her life satisfactory except for Janie’s single status; she refers to her dying days as "golden moments." Nanny’s attitude toward death is markedly different than Joe Starks’s, who is terrified of death and refuses to believe he is dying. In Joe’s case, maybe his fear stems from dissatisfaction with his life.
There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought. Nanny entered this infinity of conscious pain again on her old knees. Towards morning she muttered, "Lawd, you know mah heart. Ah done de best Ah could do." De rest is left to you." She scuffled up from her knees and fell heavily across the bed. A month later she was dead. (3.30)
Nanny is ready to die because she no longer feels that she has unfinished business on earth. She has "done de best [she] could do." Nanny dies probably realizing that she’s hurt Janie by choosing Logan as her granddaughter’s husband, but feels she can’t fault herself for making an imperfect decision based on love. Later in the book, Janie reveals that she hates her grandmother for forcing her to marry Logan. Do you think Hurston wanted the reader to agree with Janie?