Their Eyes Were Watching God
How we cite our quotes:
[after Joe buys two hundred acres of land from Captain Eaton]: "Ain’t never seen no sich uh colored man befo’ in all mah bawn days. He’s gointuh put up uh store and git uh post office from de Goven’ment." (5.69)
Coker and the rest of Eatonville is amazed at Joe’s wealth, ambition, and quick action. They expect such things out of a white man, not one of their own. In a way, Joe shows that your race doesn’t need to limit your ambition or economic success.
[Coker]: "Us colored folks is too envious of one ‘nother. Dat’s how come us don’t git o further than us do. Us talks about de white man keepin’ us down! Shucks! He don’t have tuh. Us keeps our own selves down." (5.72)
Coker makes the observation that it is not simply white people that put down black men. They do it to themselves, always gossiping about and envying one another and trying to limit each other’s success out of jealousy. Indeed, this jealousy between black folks is a recurring theme in the novel.
Take for instance that new house of his. It had two stories with porches, with banisters and such things. The rest of the town looked like servants’ quarters surrounding the "big house." And different from everybody else in the town he put off moving in until it had been painted, in and out. And look at the way he painted it – a gloaty, sparkly white. The kind of promenading white that the houses of Bishop Whipple, W.B. Jackson and the Vanderpool’s wore. It made the village feel funny talking to him – just like he was anybody else. Then there was the matter of the spittoons. No sooner was he all set as the Mayor – post master – landlord – storekeeper, than he bought a desk like Mr. Hill or Mr. Galloway over in Maitland with one of those swing-around chairs to it. What with him biting down on cigars and saving his breath on talk and swinging round in that chair, it weakened people. And then he spit in that gold-looking vase that anybody else would have been glad to put on their front-room table. Said it was a spittoon just like his used-to-be bossman used to have in his bank up there in Atlanta. Didn’t have to get up and go to the door every time he had to spit. Didn’t spit on his floor neither. Had that golded-up spitting pot right handy. But he went further than that. He bought a little lady-size spitting pot for Janie to spit in. Had it right in the parlor with little sprigs of flowers painted all around the sides It took people by surprise because most of the women dipped snuff and of course had a spit-cup in the house. But how could they know up-to-date folks was spitting in flowery little things like that? It sort of made the rest of them feel that they had been taken advantage of. Like things had been kept from them. Maybe more things in the world besides spitting pots had been hid from them, when they wasn’t told no better than to spit in tomato cans. It was bad enough for white people, but when one of your own color could be so different it put you on a wonder. It was like seeing your sister turn into a ‘gator. A familiar strangeness. You keep seeing your sister in the ‘gator and the ‘gator in your sister and you’d rather not. There was no doubt that the town respected him and even admired him in a way. But any man who walks in the way of power and property is bound to meet hate. (5.130)
Eatonville holds a double standard against Joe Starks. While they admire and envy his decadent wealth, they also resent that Joe flaunts it. He is, like his white-painted house, "gloaty." Joe Starks’ conspicuous wealth and home seem like an echo of slavery with Joe in many ways taking on the role as the wealthy plantation owner. With money in his hands, Joe is quite similar to wealthy white people, implying that conspicuous consumption and a domineering attitude is not restricted to whites, which the people of Eatonville might have at one point assumed. Being black, Joe is somewhat familiar and comforting to the people of Eatonville, but his behavior, which emulates white people, renders him alien. Thus he has "a familiar strangeness" that is odd enough to set people on edge.