Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God Nanny Quotes
"Yeah, Janie, youse got yo’ womanhood on yuh. So Ah mout ez well tell yuh whut Ah been savin’ up for uh spell. Ah wants to see you married right away."
"Me, married? Naw, Nanny, no ma’am! Whut Ah know ‘bout uh husband?"
"Whut Ah seen just now is plenty for me, honey, Ah don’t want no trashy nigger, no breath-and-britches, lak Johnny Taylor usin’ yo’ body to wipe his foots on."
Nanny’s words made Janie’s kiss across the gatepost seem like a manure pile after a rain. (2.25-28)
For Nanny, a girl becomes a woman at the first sign of her emerging sexuality. She sees any sort of extramarital sexual activity – even kissing – shameful and thus makes "Janie’s [first] kiss…seem like a manure pile after a rain."
Nanny on Leafy]: "Dat school teacher had done hid her in de woods all night long, and he had done raped mah baby and run on off just before day."
"She was only seventeen, and somethin’ lak dat to happen! Lawd a’ mussy! Look lak Ah kin see it all over again. It was a long time before she was well, and by dat time we knowed you was on de way. And after you was born she took to drinkin’ likker and stayin’ out nights. Couldn’t git her to stay here and nowhere else. Lawd knows where she is right now." (2.72-73)
Here, Janie learns that the sex act – which she has seen performed only in terms of love – can be used to hurt. Leafy was only seventeen when she was raped and impregnated by her schoolteacher, and it was such a traumatic experience that she never recovered. This serves as a warning to Janie not to idealize sex or mistake it for love.
[Nanny at the sight of Johnny Taylor kissing Janie]: "Janie!"
The old woman’s voice was so lacking in command and reproof, so full of crumbling dissolution, – that Janie half believed that Nanny had not seen her. So she extended herself outside of her dream and went inside of the house. That was the end of her childhood. (2.18-19)
Janie’s definitive end of childhood and the most naïve level of innocence is initiated by a single word from Nanny. Curiously, this word does not carry a tone of authoritative reproof, but is marked by its frailty. It seems that Janie is more moved by pity for Nanny than actual regret for kissing a boy, and that her childhood innocence is lost not from the awareness of her sexuality, but from disappointing Nanny.