Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Jealousy

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Chapter 1

"She ain’t even worth talkin’ after," Lulu Moss drawled through her nose. "She sits high, but she looks low. Dat’s what Ah say ‘bout dese ole women runnin’ after young boys." (1.12)

Lulu, one of the women jealous of Janie, arms herself with hurtful words. She speaks hypocritically, claiming Janie "ain’t even worth talking after," when that is exactly what she is doing—talking about Janie.

[The porch]: "What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on? – Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in? – Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her? – What dat ole forty year ole ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal? – Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid? – Thought she was going to marry? – Where he left her? – What he done wid all her money? – Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs – Why she don’t stay in her class? –" (1.6)

The gossipers’ comments make it plain that they envy Janie’s good looks that allow her to dress in overalls and let her hair loose and still look attractive. Instead of making Janie look bad, their envy makes them look like a pack of insecure women.

Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song. (1.5)

The long-lived "envy" that these gossipers on the porch have for Janie quickly translates into "burning statements…[and]…killing tools" all made from words. Their jealousy makes them aggressive and vindictive. Hurston describes the gossipers’ cruel words as "walking without masters," which makes it seem that everyone is throwing out criticisms, but would never claim them or take responsibility for what they say. Jealousy is something you show behind the victim’s back when you don’t have to be the master of your words or face repercussions.

Pheoby Watson

[Pheoby]: "You know if you pass some people and don’t speak tuh suit ‘em dey got tuh go way back in yo’ life and see whut you ever done. They know mo’ ‘bout yuh than you do yo’self. An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done ‘heard’ ‘bout you just what they hope done happened." (1.42)

Pheoby recognizes that because Janie doesn’t make the effort to be friendly to the gossipers, they feel left out and hurt, so they look for ammunition with which to wound her. Pheoby also realizes that jealous people don’t forget anything bad about you, so they can store up dirt to use later. And for lack of real stuff to gossip about, they’ll just make it up.

Chapter 2

Dere wuz uh knotty head gal name Mayrella dat useter git mad every time she look at me. Mis’ Washburn useter dress me up in all de clothes her gran’chillun didn’t need no mo’ which still wuz better’n whut de rest uh de colored chillun had. And then she useter put hair ribbon on mah head fuh me tuh wear. Dat useter rile Mayrella uh lot. So she would pick at me all de time and put some others up tuh do de same. They’d push me ‘way from de ring plays and make out they couldn’t play wid nobody dat lived on premises. 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." (2.10)

Mayrella, like the porch gossipers, ostracizes and tries to humiliate Janie because she is jealous of Janie’s good looks and clothes. Seems like women have always resented Janie for being pretty.

Chapter 4

Logan with his shovel looked like a black bear doing some clumsy dance on his hind legs. (4.52)

Logan’s jealousy that Janie might run off with some other man renders him somewhat bestial, like a "black bear doing some clumsy dance." Hurston often relates jealousy to loss of humanity and reduction to bestiality. Often, when people show excessive jealousy or hate, Hurston depicts them as animals.

Chapter 5

That [Joe running a post office] irritated Hicks and he didn’t know why. He was the average mortal. It troubled him to get used to the world one way and then suddenly have it turn different. He wasn’t ready to think of colored people in post offices yet. (5.70)

Because Hicks is "the average mortal," Joe’s quick advancement into a position that only white men have previously occupied makes Hicks jealous. It defies his concept of what it means to be black and human; that Hicks is described as "mortal" implies that Joe is a god. Hick’s jealousy and uneasiness quickly turns into outward denial.

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 things in 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)

Though Joe is indeed mayor, he takes every opportunity to flaunt his superiority to the common townspeople. His house, unnecessarily big. The home is "gloaty" and "sparkly," implying a degree of arrogance and falseness that grates on the townspeople’s nerves. Similarly, the decorative spittoons that Joe buys for himself and Janie are pretentious shows of wealth, objects that humbler people would have cherished as vases. All this arrogance is made worse by the fact that Joe is undeniably black, a man who is supposed to be their equal. Joe seems to want everyone to envy him, and they do. Maybe he doesn’t realize that with envy comes hate as well as admiration.

Janie soon began to feel the impact of awe and envy against her sensibilities. The wife of the Mayor was not just another woman as she had supposed. She slept with authority and so she was part of it in the town mind. She couldn’t get but so close to most of them in spirit. It was especially noticeable after Joe had forced through a town ditch to drain the street in front of the store. They had murmured hotly about slavery being over, but every man filled his assignment. (5.128)

As Janie explains, her marriage to the mayor of the town makes her a part of that authority in the eyes of the town, so the townspeople hold her at a distance. The people of Eatonville hold Janie to a double standard; they place her in a position of superiority but they also reserve the right to be bitterly jealous of her. The same goes for Joe. Such is the public mentality.

"Maybe he [Joe] make her [Janie] do it [tie up her hair]. Maybe he skeered de rest of us mens might touch it round dat store." (5.144)

One of the gossiping townsfolk accidentally hits on the exact reason Joe is making Janie bind her hair up: he is jealous of other men touching Janie’s beautiful locks. However, the fact that the citizens do not recognize this immediately as the truth shows that they think highly of Joe; they consider him too secure in his own assets to fear anything from the other men.

Chapter 6

This business of the head-rag irked her endlessly. But Jody was set on it. Her hair was NOT going to show in the store. It didn’t seem sensible at all. That was because Joe never told Janie how jealous he was. He never told her how often he had seen the other men figuratively wallowing in it as she went about things in the store. And one night he had caught Walter standing behind and brushing the back of his hand back and forth across the loose end of her braid ever so lightly so as to enjoy the feel of it without Janie knowing what he was doing. Joe was at the back of the store and Walter didn’t see him. He felt like rushing forth with the meat knife and chopping off the offending hand. That night he ordered Janie to tie up her hair around the store. That was all. She was there in the store for him to look at, not those others. (6.31)

Joe’s jealousy becomes apparent here. He only makes Janie wear the head-rag because he has concrete evidence to confirm his fears; Walter has already felt up Janie’s hair without her knowledge. Joe’s concept of Janie as an object—his object—is so strong that the sight of another man enjoying any part of Janie immediately stirs violent thoughts in his mind. Clearly he doesn’t realize that Janie is a human and won’t be stolen away from him, she’d have to give herself to another man, which she’s showing no signs of doing.

Chapter 11

So he didn’t come that night and she laid in bed and pretended to think scornfully of him. "Bet he’s hangin’ round some jook or ‘nother. Glad Ah treated him cold. Whut do Ah want wid some trashy n***** out de streets? Bet he’s livin’ wid some woman or ‘nother and takin’ me for uh fool. Glad Ah caught mahself in time." She tried to console herself that way. (11.69)

Janie knows what it feels to be jealous for the first time. Because she has established a strong, positive connection with Tea Cake, she feels betrayed when he doesn’t immediately come visit her again. To soothe her spurned heart, Janie pushes her anger onto Tea Cake, writing him off as unfaithful and a "trashy n*****." This last phrase is reminiscent of Nanny’s reaction to Johnny Taylor; without being conscious of it, Janie is slowly letting her bitterness transform her into the narrow-minded woman that Nanny was.

Chapter 12

It was after the picnic that the town began to notice things and got mad. Tea Cake and Mrs. Mayor Starks! All the men that she could get, and fooling with somebody like Tea Cake! Another thing, Joe Starks hadn’t been dead but nine months and here she goes sashaying off to a picnic in pink linen. Done quit attending church, like she used to. Gone off to Sanford in a car with Tea Cake and her all dressed in blue! It was a shame. Done took to high heel slippers and a ten dollar hat! Looking like some young girl, always in blue because Tea Cake told her to wear it. Poor Joe Starks. Bet he turns over in his grave every day. Tea Cake and Janie gone hunting. Tea Cake and Janie gone fishing. Tea Cake and Janie gone to Orlando to the movies. Tea Cake and Janie gone to a dance. Tea Cake making flower beds in Janie’s yard and seeding the garden for her. Chopping down that tree she never did like by the dining room window. All those signs of possession. (12.1)

The town, already scandalized by Janie’s interest in Tea Cake, hates her for associating so intimately and publicly with Tea Cake. Because they adored Joe Starks as their mayor, they find Janie’s flirting around scandalous. It’s almost like they’re being jealous for Joe Starks when they really have no right to be

Chapter 14
Janie Crawford

[Janie, when Tea Cake comes home early from work]: "Maybe you think Ah ain’t treatin’ yuh right and you watchin’ me." (14.23)

Janie finally voices her biggest fear—that Tea Cake might suspect her of carrying on an affair behind his back. She has had enough experience with men to know that jealousy is part of their nature.

Chapter 15
Vergible "Tea Cake" Woods

He [Sop-de-Bottom] waved his hand towards the cane field and hurried away. Janie never thought at all. She just acted on feelings. She rushed into the cane and about the fifth row down she found Tea Cake and Nunkie struggling. She was on them before either knew.

"Whut’s de matter heah?" Janie asked in a cold rage. They sprang apart.

"Nothin’," Tea Cake told her, standing shame-faced.

"Well, whut you doin’ in heah? How come you ain’t out dere wid de rest?"

"She grabbed mah workin’ tickets outa mah shirt pocket and Ah run tuh git ‘em back," Tea Cake explained, showing the tickets, considerably mauled about in the struggle. (15.4-8)

When afflicted by jealousy, Janie loses all rational thought. She "just act[s] on feelings" and when she finds the guilty couple, interrogates them coldly, reveling in both party’s guilt. Her jealousy here is at least somewhat justified because Tea Cake is indeed messing around with Nunkie more than is socially acceptable for a married man. It’s interesting that jealousy makes Janie the more animated than she is in any other part of the whole novel.

Janie Crawford

The next morning Janie asked like a woman, "You still love ole Nunkie?"

"Naw, never did, and you know it too. Ah didn’t want her."

"Yeah, you did." She didn’t say this because she believed it. She wanted to hear his denial. She had to crow over the fallen Nunkie. (15.15-17)

Janie, in a gesture that some might call petty, rejoices in her triumph over Nunkie. Even though she is secure in her knowledge of Tea Cake’s love and devotion to her, she still takes pride in overcoming someone who was once a threat to her and once a cause for jealousy.

Janie made a move to seize Nunkie but the girl fled. So she took out behind her over the humped-up cane rows. But Nunkie did not mean to be caught. So Janie went on home. The sight of the fields and the other happy people was too much for her that day. She walked slowly and thoughtfully to the quarters. It wasn’t long before Tea Cake found her there and tried to talk. She cut him short with a blow and they fought from one room to the other, Janie trying to beat him, and Tea Cake kept holding her wrists and whatever he could to keep her from going too far. (15.9)

Janie’s jealousy manifests itself physically. She chases Nunkie with a malicious intent and when she sees Tea Cake, she is so enraged that she loses control and tries to beat him with her fists. This is the first time readers have seen Janie so intensely emotional that words will not come and she expresses herself physically instead. She’s kind of a banshee in this scene.

Janie learned what it felt like to be jealous. A little chunky girl took to picking a play out of Tea Cake in the fields and in the quarters. If he said anything at all, she’d take the opposite side and hit him or shove him and run away to make him chase her. Janie knew what she was up to – luring him away from the crowd. It kept up for two or three weeks with Nunkie getting bolder all the time. She’d hit Tea Cake playfully and the minute he so much as tapped her with his finger she’d fall against him or fall on the ground and have to be picked up. She’d be almost helpless. It took a good deal of handling to set her on her feet again. And another thing, Tea Cake didn’t seem to be able to fend her off as promptly as Janie thought he ought to. She began to be snappish a little. A little seed of fear was growing into a tree. (15.1)

Janie finally learns what it feels like to be truly jealous of another woman. This young, chunky Nunkie seems to inspire a dangerous degree of playfulness in Tea Cake, according to Janie. The jealousy felt by Logan and Joe earlier in the novel is finally manifested in Janie because she has finally found true love and fears losing it. This kind of puts her two previous marriages into perspective; maybe both Logan and Joe truly loved Janie as much as Janie now loves Tea Cake.

Chapter 17

Still and all, jealousies arose now and then on both sides. When Mrs. Turner’s brother came and she brought him over to be introduced, Tea Cake had a brainstorm. Before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss. (17.1)

Tea Cake’s jealousy, like Janie’s in previous chapters, manifests itself physically. To ensure his sole ownership of Janie, Tea Cake whips her because it "relieve[s] the awful fear inside him" that her heart might belong to another man. Essentially, jealousy really brings out the worst in Tea Cake; it turns him into a bit of a Joe Starks and Logan Killicks, thinking he needs to be the "boss" of Janie and possesses her (like an object) in order to keep her with him.

Chapter 19
Vergible "Tea Cake" Woods

"Janie, whut is dat Tuner woman’s brother doin’ back on de muck?"

"Ah don’t know, Tea Cake. Didn’t even knowed he wuz back."

"Accordin’ tuh mah notion, you did. Whut you slip off from me just now for?"

"Tea Cake, Ah don’t lak you astin’ me no sich question. Dat shows how sick you is sho nuff. You’se jealous ‘thout me givin’ you cause."

"Well, whut didja slip off from de house ‘thout tellin’ me you wuz goin’. You ain’t never done dat befo’."

"Dat wuz cause Ah wuz tryin’ not tuh let yuh worry ‘bout yo’ condition. De doctah sent after some mo’ medicine and Ah went tuh see if it come." (19.117-122)

Tea Cake’s little store of natural jealousy is amplified and exaggerated by the rabies. No matter what Janie tells him, no matter how reasonable her alibi is, he won’t listen. He fixates obsessively on the idea that Janie is cheating on him. Eventually, his jealousy is so strong and un-tempered by rational and humane thought (because of the disease) that he tries to kill her.

Pheoby Watson

[Sam]: "Oh dey got it all figgered out. Maybe it ain’t as bad as they say, but they talk it and make it sound real bad on her part."

[Pheoby]: "Dat’s jealousy and malice. Some uh dem very mens wants tuh do whut dey claim deys skeered Tea Cake is doin’." (12.10-11)

Pheoby recognizes the driving force behind the town’s petty talk about Janie. She knows that the men are jealous and hypocritical—jealous because they want the very thing Tea Cake has won (Janie’s affection), and hypocritical because they’re trying to marry Janie for her money despite trash talking Tea Cake for supposedly going after her wealth.

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