Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God Nanny Quotes
[Nanny]: "She [Leafy] was only seventeen, and somethin’ lak dat to happen! Lawd a’mussy! Look lak Ah kind 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. She ain’t dead, ‘cause Ah’d know it by mah feelings, but sometimes Ah wish she was at rest." (2.73)
Nanny recalls how her own daughter, Leafy, violently lost her innocence. Leafy’s rape by her schoolteacher left the impressionable young girl deeply disturbed. Leafy, after being raped, couldn’t live a normal life because she was haunted by the memory of her violent and unwilling sexual initiation into womanhood. Thus she never develops into a fully healthy woman.
[Nanny]: "Dat mornin’ on de big plantation close to Savannah, a rider come in a gallop tellin’ ‘bout Sherman takin’ Atlanta. Marse Robert’s son had done been kilt at Chickamauga. So he grabbed his gun and straddled is best horse and went off wid de rest of de gray-headed men and young boys to drive de Yankees back into Tennessee.
"They was all cheerin’ and cryin’ and shoutin’ for de men dat was ridin’ off. Ah couldn’t see nothin’ cause yo’ mama wasn’t but a week old, and Ah was flat uh mah back. But pretty soon he let on he forgot somethin’ and run into mah cabin and made me let down mah hair for de last time. He sorta wropped his hand in it, pulled mah big toe, lak he always done, and was gone after de rest lak lightnin’. (2.58-59)
Although not stated explicitly, it seems that Nanny’s slave master cares more for Nanny than his white wife. It is, afterall, Nanny that the master returns home to caress and say goodbye to before heading off to battle, not his wife. This harkens back to Leafy’s situation as well. Her white schoolmaster raped her, but he also apparently wanted to marry her. Though socially unacceptable at the time, and often displayed in negative ways, love was not confined to members of a person’s own race.
[Nanny]: "Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. 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 uh de world so fur as Ah can see." (2.44)
This book reveals a social hierarchy based on race and gender. While the fact that black men were often put down and discriminated against by white men is common knowledge, Nanny points out an even more victimized group – black women. By virtue of being both a racial minority and the "weaker" sex, black women had it worst of all and were essentially the bottom of the totem pole.