Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God Race Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
[Mrs. Turner]: "You’se different from me. Ah can’t stand black niggers. Ah don’t blame de white folks from hatin’ ‘em ‘cause Ah can’t stand ‘em mahself. ‘Nother thing, Ah hates tuh see folks lak me and you mixed up wid ‘em. Us oughta class off."
"Us can’t do it. We’se uh mingled people and all of us got black kinfolks as well as yaller kinfolks. How come you so against black?"
"And dey makes me tired. Always laughin! Dey laughs too much and dey laughs too loud. Always singin’ ol’ nigger songs! Always cuttin’ de monkey for white folks. If it wuzn’t for so many black folks it wouldn’t be no race problem. De white folks would take us in wid dem. De black ones is holdin’ us back." (16.14-16)
Mrs. Turner is prejudiced against black people on a scale of darkness; the darker a person is, the more despicable he is to her. Mrs. Turner also seems to define race by skin color; since she is fair skinned, she hopes that she can "class off" and become part of another racial group. Janie, on the other hand, thinks very little of skin color. She points out that black people have a very mixed heritage, so it isn’t about your skin color. Is seems that Janie defines race more by shared culture than shared skin color.
Mrs. Turner was almost screaming in fanatical earnestness by now. Janie was dumb and bewildered before and she clucked sympathetically and wished she knew what to say. It was so evident that Mrs. Turner took black folk as a personal affront to herself.
"Look at me! Ah ain’t got no flat nose and liver lips. Ah’m uh featured woman. Ah got white folks’ features in mah face. Still and all Ah got tuh be lumped in wid all de rest. It ain’t fair. Even if dey don’t take us in wid de whites, dey oughta make us uh class tuh ourselves." (16.19-20)
Mrs. Turner resents her racial identity because in the world she lives, race often dictates social status and success. She doesn’t expect that the existence of a racial hierarchy will change, so she wants a new race, or a new class, to be made so that she can have better opportunities. Janie, however, doesn’t mind her racial identity. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t mind her situation in life – she doesn’t care if she’s working in bean fields so long as she’s with her love, Tea Cake.
She [Mrs. Turner] felt honored by Janie’s acquaintance and she quickly forgave and forgot snubs in order to keep it. Anyone who looked more white folkish than herself was better than she was in her criteria, therefore it was right that they should be cruel to her at times, just as she was cruel to those more negroid than herself in direct ratio to their negroness. Like the pecking-order in a chicken yard. Insensate cruelty to those you can whip, and groveling submission to those you can’t. Once having set up her idols and built altars to them it was inevitable that she would worship there. It was inevitable that she should accept any inconsistency and cruelty from her deity as all good worshippers do from theirs. All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood. (16.43)
This passage pretty clearly explains Mrs. Turner’s strange behavior. Not only is she subject to a system of racial hierarchy, she propagates it and takes it to a religious level – deifying white people. It’s interesting that she has no desire for equality, she just wants to be in the good graces of her "gods" and be somewhere in the middle of the pecking order.