Their Eyes Were Watching God
Society and Class Quotes Page 11
How we cite our quotes:
Anyone who looked more white folkish than herself [Mrs. Turner] 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)
Mrs. Turner links race to class. The whiter one is, the classier he or she is. Mrs. Turner takes it to such an extreme level that she considers white people so socially superior that they are gods. She worships them for their inherent superiority to her and wishes with all her might that she could be initiated as a fully white woman, so she could be accepted into their divine social class.
[Tea Cake]: "Mah Janie is uh high time woman and useter things. Ah didn’t git her outa de middle uh de road. Ah got her outa uh big fine house. Right now she got money enough in de bank tuh buy up dese ziggaboos and give ‘em away."
"Hush yo’ mouf! And she down heah on de muck lak anybody else!" (17.5-6)
Tea Cake is proud of Janie’s former status as a mayor’s wife and he similarly admires her wealth. It’s almost like he sees his status increasing by pointing out that his wife left her wealth and comfortable life for him and to work in the muck beside him. That’s how awesome he his.
It woke up old Okechobee and the monster began to rollin his bed. Began to roll and complain like a peevish world on a grumble. The folks in the quarters and the people in the big houses further around the shore heard the big lake and wondered. The people felt uncomfortable but safe because there were the seawalls to chain the senseless monster in his bed. The folks let the people do the thinking. If the castles thought themselves secure, the cabins needn’t worry. Their decision was already made as always. Chink up your cracks, shiver in your wet beds and wait on the mercy on Lord. The bossman might have the thing stopped before morning anyway. (18.27)
Although Lake Okechobee is obviously swelling with water and ready to flood, the black migrant workers stay down in the swamps, clinging to the confidence of the white people, that they will be safe no matter what nature throws their way. The black "folk let the [white] people do the thinking." Notice how the colloquial and lower-classed are called "folk" and call the white richer men as "people" – a more serious term than the quaint "folk." Even based on terminology, the lower class people are granted less humanity than their higher class neighbors.