Their Eyes Were Watching God
How we cite our quotes:
The sun was gone…It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment. (1.4)
The narrator cites the black people of Eatonville’s lack of confidence during the day, which dissolves by night when the white "bossman [is] gone." With the departure of the white men, the black people feel more human because they are no longer treated cruelly or belittled. It’s interesting that the passage implies that the black people of Eatonville can only live out their lives when they are away from white people and surrounded with their own community.
"Ah ain’t never seen mah papa. And Ah didn’t know ’im if Ah did. Mah mama neither. She was gone from round dere long before Ah wuz big enough tuh know. Mah grandma raised me. Mah grandma and de white folks she worked wid. She had a house out in de back-yard and dat’s where Ah wuz born. They was quality white folks up dere in West Florida. Named Washburn. She had four gran’chillun on de place and all of us played together and dat’s how come Ah never called mah Grandma nothin’ but Nanny, ‘cause dat’s what everybody on de place called her. Nanny used to ketch us in our devilment and lick every youngun on de place and Mis’ Washburn did de same. Ah reckon dey never hit us a lick amiss ‘cause dem three boys and us two girls wuz pretty aggravatin’, Ah speck.
Ah was wid dem white chillun so much till Ah didn’t know Ah wuzn’t white till Ah was round six years old. Wouldn’t have found it out then, but a man come long takin’ pictures and without askin’ anybody, Shelby, dat was de oldest boy, he told him to take us. Round a week later de man brought de picture for Mis’ Washburn to see and pay him which she did, then give us all a good lickin’.
So when we looked at depicture and everybody got pointed out there wasn’t nobody left except a real dark little girl with long hair standing by Eleanor. Dat’s where Ah wuz s’posed to be, but Ah couldn’t recognize dat dark child as me. So Ah ast, ‘where is me? Ah don’t see me.’
Everybody laughed, even Mr. Washburn. Miss Nellie, de Mama of de chillun who come back home after her husband dead, she pointed to de dark one and said, ‘Dat’s you, Alphabet, don’t you know yo’ ownself?’
Dey all useter call me Alphabet ‘cause so many people had done named me different names. Ah looked at de picture a long time and seen it was mah dress and mah hair so Ah said:
’Aw, aw! Ah’m colored!’" (2.3-8)
Janie is a stranger to herself for six years, not knowing the true nature of her racial identity. It takes a reflection of herself – almost like looking in a mirror – to discover what color her skin is. She might not have believed that she was black otherwise, without having seen it with her own eyes. This realization comes as a shock to young Janie who has lived with white children all her life and believes she is one of them. Janie seems to define herself not so much by the color of her skin, but by the community she lives with.
"Den they’d tell me not to be takin’ on over mah looks ‘cause they mama told ‘em ‘bout de hound dawgs huntin’ mah papa all night long. ‘Bout Mr. Washburn and de sheriff puttin’ de bloodhounds on de trail tuh ketch mah papa for whut he done tuh mah mama. Dey didn’t tell about how he wuz seen tryin tuh git in touch wid mah mama later on so he could marry her. Naw, dey didn’t talk dat part of it atall. Dey made it sound real bad so as tuh crumple mah feathers." (2.10)
Because Janie’s father is a white rapist and her mother the product of a white slave owner and a black slave woman, Janie’s birth is a result of race victimization. Janie must learn to handle this inheritance and others’ condescension with strength, grace, and dignity.