Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
To Janie’s strange eyes, everything in the Everglades was big and new. Big Lake Okeechobee, big beans, big cane, big weeds, big everything. Weeds that did well to grow waist high up the state were eight and often ten feet tall down there. Ground so rich that everything went wild. Volunteer cane just taking the place. Dirt roads so rich and black that a half mile of it would have fertilized a Kansas wheat field. Wild cane on either side of the road hiding the rest of the world. People wild too. (14.1)
What an aristocrat might label as uncivilized wilderness, Janie describes as "big," "wild," and "so rich." She has a decidedly positive attitude towards a place that could be perceived much more negatively by someone high-born. Again, this shows that adventure and pleasure is more important to her than having a luxurious life.
Day by day now, the hordes of workers poured in. Some came limping in with their shoes and sore feet from walking. It’s hard trying to follow your shoe instead of your shoe following you. They came in wagons from way up in Georgia and they came in truck loads from east, west, north and south. Permanent transients with no attachments and tired looking men with their families and dogs in flivvers. All night, all day, hurrying in to pick beans. Skillets, beds, patched up spare inner tubes all hanging and dangling from the ancient cars on the outside and hopeful humanity, herded and hovered on the inside, chugging on to the muck. People ugly from ignorance and broken from being poor.
All night now the jooks clanged and clamored. Pianos living three lifetimes in one. Blues made and used right on the spot. Dancing, fighting, singing, crying, laughing, winning and losing love every hour. Work all day for money, fight all night for love. The rich black earth clinging to bodies and biting the skin like ants. (14.15-16)
Hurston gives a rich description of the migrant workers pouring into work during the harvest season. These are the lowest of the lower classes, so poor that some walk all the way to the Everglades to do their jobs. Such a wretched group of people would be expected to be miserable, but instead, they are vibrant with life – playing in the jook houses and pianos for fun at night, their music and dancing ringing in the night as they live it up. Hurston clearly seems to be saying that the rich have stale lives, but the poor really know how to live. Is Hurston romanticizing the life of the lower classes or is it accurate?
Sometimes Janie would think of the old days in the big white house and the store and laugh to herself. What if Eatonville could see her now in her blue denim overalls and heavy shoes? The crowd of people around her and a dice game on her floor! She was sorry for her friends back there and scornful of the others. The men held big arguments here like they used to do on the store porch. Only here, she could listen and laugh and even talk some herself if she wanted to. She got so she could tell big stories herself from listening to the rest. (14.31)
While experiencing the "low" life of the migrant workers, Janie comes to love it and to pity her friends back in Eatonville for having to deal with pretentious townspeople. Here, nobody acts as if fun is a sin and nobody interferes with anyone else’s happiness, telling them what they can and cannot do. Janie revels in it, especially in the telling of stories.