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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

Society and Class Quotes Page 5

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Quote #13

Take for instance that new house of his. It had two stories with porches, with banisters and such things. The rest of the town looked like servants’ quarters surrounding the "big house." And different from everybody else in the town he put off moving in until it had been painted, in and out. And look at the way he painted it – a gloaty, sparkly white. The kind of promenading white that the houses of Bishop Whipple, W.B. Jackson and the Vanderpool’s wore. It made the village feel funny talking to him – just like he was anybody else. Then there was the matter of the spittoons. No sooner was he all set as the Mayor – post master – landlord – storekeeper, than he bought a desk like Mr. Hill or Mr. Galloway over in Maitland with one of those swing-around chairs to it. What with him biting down on cigars and saving his breath on talk and swinging round in that chair, it weakened people. And then he spit in that gold-looking vase that anybody else would have been glad to put on their front-room table. Said it was a spittoon just like his used-to-be bossman used to have in his bank up there in Atlanta. Didn’t have to get up and go to the door every time he had to spit. Didn’t spit on his floor neither. Had that golded-up spitting pot right handy. But he went further than that. He bought a little lady-size spitting pot for Janie to spit in. Had it right in the parlor with little sprigs of flowers painted all around the sides It took people by surprise because most of the women dipped snuff and of course had a spit-cup in the house. But how could they know up-to-date folks was spitting in flowery little things like that? It sort of made the rest of them feel that they had been taken advantage of. Like things had been kept from them. Maybe more thing sin the world besides spitting pots had been hid from them, when they wasn’t told no better than to spit in tomato cans It was bad enough for white people, but when one of your own color could be so different it put you on a wonder. It was like seeing your sister turn into a ‘gator. A familiar strangeness. You keep seeing your sister in the ‘gator and the ‘gator in your sister and you’d rather not. There was no doubt that the town respected him and even admired him in a way. But any man who walks in the way of power and property is bound to meet hate. (5.130)

Joe flaunts his new wealth in a parodic semblance of Southern white gentry. He spends his money on trivial items like adorned spittoons for himself and his wife. This exorbitance makes the citizens both jealous and resentful of him. Before Joe moved into town, the people of Eatonville had no reason to think of themselves as low class, because they were all the same class – all the same race and all poor. Joe brought social stratification to town, and now everyone else can see what they’re missing out on.

Quote #14

Janie loved the conversation and sometimes she thought up good stories on the mule, but Joe had forbidden her to indulge. He didn’t want her talking after such trashy people. "You’se Mrs. Mayor Starks, Janie. I god, Ah can’t see what uh woman uh yo’ stability would want tuh be treasurin’ all dat gum-grease from folks dat don’t even own de house dey sleep in." (6.28)

Although Janie doesn’t mind mingling with all the townspeople and making up tall tales about the infamous mule, Joe considers the people "trashy" and "gum-grease." He thinks Janie’s position as mayor’s wife automatically makes her morally superior and he does not want her associating with them. This is, of course, hypocrisy since Joe himself, the mayor of the town, associates and jokes with them all the time. All the same, he seems to think that it hurts his own social status to have his wife hanging around with commoners.

Quote #15

[When Janie wants to go to the mule’s funeral]: Joe was struck speechless for a moment. "Why, Janie! You wouldn’t be seen at uh draggin’-out, wouldja? Wid any and everybody in uh passle pushin’ and shovin’ wid they no-manners selves? Naw, naw!" (6.69-71)

Janie does not matter who she hangs out with if she is having fun, but Joe has a more prescriptive view. He uses he and Janie’s higher class as officials of the town to insinuate that she is better than the other townspeople and will stain her reputation if she spends time with them. Janie doesn’t care much about her social status, but Joe seems to place reputation above his wife’s happiness.

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