Their Eyes Were Watching God
How we cite our quotes:
[Tea Cake]: "It’s bad bein’ strange niggers wid white folks. Everybody is against yuh."
"Dat sho is de truth. De ones de white man know is nice colored folks. De ones he don’t know is bad niggers."(19.40-41)
In the setting of the novel, the worth of black people is defined by their relationship with white people. Thus, those black people that are well-known and attested for by white people are considered harmless by society, while those unknown to any whites are immediately suspect. This is a guilty-until-proven-innocent kind of situation.
And twelve more white men had stopped whatever they were doing to listen and pass on what happened between Janie and Tea Cake Woods, and as to whether things were done right or not. That was funny too. Twelve strange men who didn’t know a thing about people like Tea Cake and her were going to sit on the thing. Eight or ten white women had come to look at her too. They wore good clothes and had the pinky color that comes of good food. They were nobody’s poor white folks. What need had they to leave their richness to come look on Janie in her overalls? But they didn’t seem too mad, Janie thought. It would be nice if she could make them know how it was instead of those menfolks. (19.155)
Interestingly, while Janie feels alienated from the twelve white men on jury, she feels an immediate connection to the white women in the audience. Janie’s sense of attachment to them is so strong that she wants to tell them her story instead of the jury. In this instance, being of the same gender seems to be a more important bond than being of the same race.
Then she saw all of the colored people standing up in the back of the courtroom. Packed tight like a case of celery, only much darker than that. They were all against her, she could see. So many were there against her that a light slap from each one of them would have beat her to death. She felt them pelting her with dirty thoughts. They were there with their tongues cocked and loaded, the only real weapon left to weak folks. The only killing tool they are allowed to use in the presence of white folks.
"Mistah Prescott, Ah got somethin’ tuh say," Sop-de-Bottom spoke out anonymously form the anonymous herd.
The courtroom swung round on itself to look.
"If you know what’s good for you, you better shut your mouth up until somebody calls you," Mr. Prescott told him coldly.
"Yassuh, Mr. Prescott."
"We are handling this case. Another word out of you, out of any of you niggers back there, and I’ll bind you over to the big court."
The entire black community of the Everglades turns out in force to speak against Janie. Because they are a race compromised in their relationship to white people, the black community has nothing to attack Janie with but their tongues. But in actuality, the black people in the courthouse can’t even rely on their voices to be heard anymore. When they try to speak out against Janie, the white court silences them. In the end, even the black people’s tongues, which they wanted to use as weapons, are neutralized by the white men.