Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Nanny is Janie’s grandmother and the only parent she’s ever known. Nanny loves Janie and raises the girl as best as she can. The only problem is that Nanny’s hopes for Janie’s future are skewed by her own traumatic experiences. Nanny herself lived through slavery and had a child, Janie’s mother, by her white master. So Nanny herself was unmarried, but sexually dominated by a man, and the same happened to her daughter. As a result, Nanny has high hopes that Janie will marry and be a legitimate wife. This end goal seems to be the most important thing for Nanny, and in her quest to get Janie married to a suitable man, Nanny turns a blind eye to Janie’s needs. Having lived under the old system of slavery, Nanny’s conception of freedom is one of wealth and idleness. She romanticizes the position of white women and aspires to it; when she cannot achieve this goal in her lifetime, she imposes it on Janie by making her marry a respected land-owning black farmer.
Nanny’s love for Janie does not absolve her of her crime – forcing Janie into a loveless marriage and claiming falsely that marriage entails love. Janie’s condemnation of Nanny is based on the idea that the ultimate virtue is honesty in one’s words and actions. By willingly deceiving Janie about the nature love – simply to satisfy her desire to see Janie living a proud life – is a crime that neither Janie nor God (it is implied) can forgive.