Their Eyes Were Watching God
Race Quotes Page 7
How we cite our quotes:
Mrs. Turner, like all other believers had built an altar to the unattainable – Caucasian characteristics for all. Her god would smite her, would hurl her from pinnacles and lose her in deserts, but she would not forsake his altars. Behind her crude words was a belief that somehow she and others through worship could attain her paradise – a heaven of staighthaired, thin-lipped, high-nose boned white seraphs. The physical impossibilities in no way injured faith. That was the mystery and the mysteries are the chores of gods. Beyond her faith was a fanaticism to defend the altars of her gods. It was distressing to emerge from her inner temple and find these black desecrators howling with laughter before the door. Oh, for an army, terrible with banners and swords! (16.44)
Here is the cruelest aspect of Mrs. Turner’s fanatical dream: she thinks she can attain whiteness by good deeds, as if whiteness is salvation.
Everybody was talking about it [the coming hurricane] that night. But nobody was worried. The fire dance kept up till nearly dawn. The next day, more Indians moved east, unhurried but steady. Still a blue sky and fair weather. Beans running fine and prices good, so the Indians could be, must be, wrong. You couldn’t have a hurricane when you’re making seven and eight dollars a day picking beans. Indians are dumb anyhow, always were. (18.4)
Here, the black workers in the Everglades show the same racism towards Native Americans as they themselves are treated with by white people. Racial hierarchy permeates the book and colors the way characters see each other’s value and intelligence. Here, all Native Americans as a whole are considered "dumb" even though they’re really in the right about the hurricane.
[Lias]: "De Indians gahn east, man. It’s dangerous."
[Tea Cake]: "Dey don’t always know. Indians don’t know much uh nothin’, tuh tell de truth. Else dey’d own dis country still. De white folks ain’t gone
Another blatant example of perceived intelligence being based on a racial hierarchy. Here, Tea Cake thinks that the Native Americans don’t know anything, and the white people are the smartest. It’s strange that he seems to be very matter-of-fact in the way he essentially implies that white people are smarter than black people – that’s why Tea Cake is waiting to see what the white people do about the hurricane.