Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Pride

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Chapter 2

[Nanny]: "Ah was born back in slavery so it wasn’t for me to fulfill my dreams of whut a woman oughta be and to do. Dat’s one of de hold-backs of slavery. But nothing can’t stop you from wishin’. You can’t beat nobody down so low till you can rob’ em of they will. Ah didn’t want to be used for a work-ox and a brood-sow and Ah didn’t want mah daughter used dat way neither. It sho wasn’t mah will for things to happen lak they did. Ah even hated de way you was born. But, all de same Ah said thank God, Ah got another chance. Ah wanted to preach a great sermon about colored women sittin’ on high, but they wasn’t no pulpit for me. Freedom found me wid a baby daughter in mah arms, so Ah said Ah’d take a broom and a cook-pot and throw up a highway through de wilderness for her. She would expound what Ah felt. But somehow she got lost offa de highway and next thing Ah knowed here you was in de world. So whilst Ah was tenin’ you of nights Ah said Ah’d save de text for you. Ah been waitin’ a long time, Janie, but nothin’ Ah been through ain’t too much if you just take a stand on high ground lak Ah dreamed." (2.56)

Nanny speaks of something deeper than simple pride in the human spirit when she talks about the indomitable will of the black slaves. Nanny’s faculty of "nothing can’t stop you from wishin’" might be described in universal terms as human dignity. She links this concept of dignity with Janie’s upbringing, trying to teach her to stand on "high ground" and "preach a great sermon about colored women sittin’ on high." This is her ultimate goal for Janie, but she does not take into account Janie’s free will.

Chapter 3

[Nanny] "Humph! don’t ‘spect all dat tuh keep up. He [Logan] ain’t kissin’ yo’ mouf when he carry on over yuh lak dat. He’s kissin’ yo’ foot and ‘tain’t in uh man tuh kiss foot long. Mouf kissin’ is on uh equal and dat’s natural but when dey got to bow down tuh love, dey soon straightens up." (3.15)

For a man, according to Nanny, love must be dignified. It is a dishonor for a man to "bow down" to a woman, even out of love. To feed their pride, they must love on equal footing (or else force the woman to bend and kneel, which is what Logan and Joe try to do).

Chapter 4

[Logan to Janie]: "Don’t you change too many words wid me dis mawnin’, Janie, do Ah’ll take and change ends wid yuh. Heah, Ah just as good as take you out de white folks’ kitchen and set you down on yo’ royal diasticutis and you take and low-rate me! Ah’ll take holt uh dat ax and come in dere and kill yuh! You better dry up in dere! Ah’m too honest and hard-workin’ for anybody in yo’ family, at’s de reason you don’t want me!"…"Ah guess some low-lifed n***** is grinnin’ in yo’ face and lyin’ tuh yuh. God damn yo’ hide!" (4.57)

Logan accuses Janie of having pride for all of the wrong reasons. It is a case of comparison. Logan takes pride in his honesty and hard work while conversely blaming Janie of never having done an honest day’s work in her life; instead, she has been pampered by the white folks and "set…down on [her] royal diasticutis." In Logan’s mind, hard, honest work is the only justifiable reason for pride.

Chapter 5

But the whole town got vain over it after it [the streetlight] came. That was because the Mayor didn’t just take it out of the crate and stick it up on a post. He unwrapped it and had it wiped off carefully and set a time for the lighting and sent word all around Orange County for one and all to come to the lamp lighting. He sent men out to the swamp to cut the finest and straightest cypress post they could find, and kept on sending them back to hunt another one until they found one that pleased him. (5.115)

Joe knows how to manipulate the pride of others, making them want to take pride in their town. To do this, he makes a big public celebration out of something as simple as lamp-lighting. Of course, his ultimate motive is to garner the townspeople’s admiration of him as mayor and feed his own ego.

On the train the next day, Joe didn’t make many speeches with rhymes to her, but he bought her the best things the butcher had, like apples and a glass lantern full of candies. Mostly he talked about plans for the town when he got there […] Janie took a lot of looks at him and she was proud of what she saw. Kind of portly like rich white folks. Strange trains, and people and places didn’t scare him neither. Where they got off the train at Maitland he found a buggy to carry them over to the colored town right away. (5.1)

Janie’s pride in Joe is not for his merits, but a self-congratulating pride that claps her on the back for having found as fine a catch as Joe. She anticipates the wealth she will live in with him, as evidenced by the "apples and a glass lantern full of candies" that he has already bought for her.

There was a long dead pause. Janie was not jumping at her chance like she ought to. Look like she didn’t hardly know he [Hicks] was there. She needed waking up. (5.55)

When Janie ignores Hicks’ advances, his pride is injured. To Hicks, going unnoticed is more insulting that being outright rejected; rejection would at least be an acknowledgement that he is a man and is flirting with her.

"Whut Ah don’t lak ‘bout de man is, he talks tuh unlettered folks wid books in his jaws," Hicks complained. "Showin’ off his learnin’." (5.140)

Again, Joe makes other men feel inadequate by pointing out their lack of an education while flaunting his own. It’s almost like Joe isn’t earning his pride, he’s just knocking others down so that he appears to be the biggest man.

"But now, Sam, you know dat all he [Joe] do is big-belly round and tell other folks what tuh do. He loves obedience out of everybody under de sound of his voice." (5.136)

After Joe dismisses Pitts from service for stealing from him, the men of Eatonville begin to notice and chafe under Joe’s excessive pride. They recognize him as primarily a voice always commanding others. Joe takes pleasure in having the town’s obedience, but his pride requires that others are humiliated.

Joe Starks

[Joe to Janie]: "I god, Ah don’t see how come yuh can’t [run the store]. ‘Tain’t nothin’ atall tuh hinder yuh if yuh got uh thimble full uh sense. You got tuh. Ah got too much else on mah hands as Mayor. Dis town needs some light right now." (5.111)

Joe’s pride at being mayor blinds him to Janie’s needs. This is the beginning of the end for their marriage.

[Joe]: "…Ah’m goin’ see de man. You cannot have no town without some land to build it on. Y’all ain’t got enough here to cuss a cat on without gittin’ yo’ mouf full of hair."

"He ain’t got no mo’ land tuh give away. Yuh needs plenty money if yuh wants any mo’."

"Ah specks to pay him."

The idea was funny to them and they wanted to laugh. They tried hard to hold it in, but enough incredulous laughter burst out of their eyes and leaked from the corners of their mouths to inform anyone of their thoughts. So Joe walked off abruptly. Most of them went along to show him the way and to be there when his bluff was called. (5.44-47)

Joe’s sense of pride almost requires humbling others around him. His sense of pride demands that he go purchase more land, but he also insults the men of Eatonville with his "cuss a cat" comment.

Chapter 6

[after the mule’s funeral]: Joe returned to the store full of pleasure and good humor but he didn’t want Janie to notice it because he saw that she was sullen and he resented that. She had no right to be, the way he thought things out. She wasn’t even appreciative of his efforts and she had plenty cause to be. Here he was just pouring honor all over her; building a high chair for her to sit in and overlook the world and she here pouting over it! Not that he wanted anybody else, but just too many women would be glad to be in her place. He ought to box her jaws! (6.89)

In his high position, Joe reads everything in terms of his pride. He takes Janie’s sullenness not as a wound to her own dignity but as an insult to his pride. He is completely blind to the fact that she is human and wants to participate in all the fun on the porch.

Chapter 7

Then Joe Starks realized all the meanings and his vanity bled like a flood. Janie had robbed him of his illusion of irresistible maleness that all men cherish, which was terrible. The thing that Saul’s daughter had done to David. But Janie had done worse, she had cast down his empty armor before men and they had laughed, would keep on laughing. When he paraded his possessions hereafter, they would not consider the two together. They’d look with envy at the things and pity the man that owned them. When he sat in judgment it would be the same. Good-for-nothing’s like Dave and Lum and Jim wouldn’t change place with him. For what can excuse a man in the eyes of other men for lack of strength? Raggedy-behind squirts of sixteen and seventeen would be giving him their merciless pity out of their eyes while their mouths said something humble. There was nothing to do in life anymore. Ambition was useless. And the cruel deceit of Janie! Making all that show of humbleness and scorning him all the time! Laughing at him, and now putting the town up to do the same. (7.27)

Finally, Hurston links pride almost directly to masculinity. For men, there is a one-to-one correspondence between pride and masculinity. Janie’s act of publicly belittling Joe’s manhood is a metaphoric act of castration that Joe, and every other man present, is sensitive to. When a man of such pride as Joe loses his masculinity publicly at the hands of a "weak" woman, he loses everything. Thus, Joe characterizes Janie as a traitor.

Joe Starks

[Joe]: "I god amighty! A woman stay round uh store till she get old as Methusalem and still can’t cut a little thing like a plug of tobacco! Don’t’ stand dere rollin’ yo’ pop eyes at me wid yo’ rump hangin’ nearly to yo’ knees!"

A big laugh started off in the store but people got to thinking and stopped. It was funny if you looked at it right quick, but it got pitiful if you thought about it awhile. It was like somebody snatched off part of a woman’s clothes while she wasn’t looking and the streets were crowded. (7.12-13)

Joe’s excessive pride and his insistence on pointing out Janie’s (nonexistent) flaws are becoming noticeable to the community at large. When Joe goes too far in insulting Janie’s looks (which are far from aged and haggard), the townspeople realize how pitiful Joe’s tactics are. Joe hopes that his pride makes him admirable, but now it has rendered him pitiful.

Maybe, he [Joe] had seen it [his old age] long before Janie did, and had been fearing for her to see. Because he began to talk about her age all the time, as if he didn’t want her to stay young while he grew old. It was always "You oughta throw somethin’ over yo’ shoulders befo’ you go outside. You ain’t no young pullet no mo’. You’se uh old hen now."…If he thought to deceive her, he was wrong. For the first time she could see a man’s head naked of its skull. Saw the cunning thoughts race in and out through the caves and promontories of his mind long before they darted out of the tunnel of his mouth. She saw he was hurting inside so she let it pass without talking.

It got to be terrible in the store. The more his back ached and his muscle dissolved into fat and the fat melted off his bones, the more fractious he became with Janie. Especially in the store. The more people in there the more ridicule he poured over her body to point attention away from his own. (7.8-9)

Joe’s pride in his manhood will not allow him to acknowledge his old age, especially not publicly. Instead, fear for his pride forces him to drag Janie down. Again we see Joe’s standard pattern of trying to build himself up by tearing others down.

Chapter 13

She [Annie Tyler] was broken and her pride was gone, so she told those who asked what had happened. Who Flung had taken her to a shabby room in a shabby house in a shabby street and promised to marry her next day. They stayed in the room two whole days then she woke up to find Who Flung and her money gone. She got up to stir around and see if she could find him, and found herself too worn out to do much. All she found out was that she was too old a vessel for new wine…. (13.13)

A woman’s pride, unlike a man’s, is directly tied to her marriage. A woman cannot stand independently from men and expect to be taken seriously. Annie Tyler lost her pride when the conniving Who Flung makes a mockery of their engagement by seducing her to come to town and then making off with her money. When he doesn’t keep his promise of marrying her, it is not Who Flung who is shamed, but Annie Tyler. It’s pretty hypocritical to cast blame on the woman for what the man has done, but such were the norms of society.

Chapter 16

But Mrs. Turner’s shape and features were entirely approved by Mrs. Turner. Her nose was slightly pointed and she was proud. Her thin lips were an ever delight to her eyes. Even her buttocks in bas-relief were a source of pride. To her way of thinking all these things set her aside from N****es. That was why she sought out Janie to friend with. Janie’s coffee-and-cream complexion and her luxurious hair made Mrs. Turner forgive her for wearing overalls like the other women who worked in the fields. (16.5)

Ironically, Mrs. Turner’s ugliest features become a source of pride for her because they differentiate her form the common black woman and mark her as partially white-blooded.

Chapter 17
Vergible "Tea Cake" Woods

[Tea Cake]: "Looka heah, y’all, don’t come in heah and raise no disturbance in de place. Mis’ Turner is too nice uh woman fuh dat. In fact, she’s more nicer than anybody else on de muck." Mrs. Turner beamed on Tea Cake. (17.31)

Tea Cake pretends to be on Mrs. Turner’s side, complimenting her person and inflating her ego, so that her disgrace will be more devastating. His tactics also cover his back; after he is through destroying her, Mrs. Turner will not be able to blame Tea Cake for her demise.

Mrs. Turner

"We all laks tuh take uh rest from our women folks’ cookin’ once in uh while, so us all eatin’ way from home tuhnight. Anyhow Mis’ Turner got de best ole grub in town."

Mrs. Turner back and forth in the dining room heard Sop when he said this and beamed.

"Ah speck you two last ones tuh come in is gointuh gave tuh wait for uh seat. Ah’m all full up now." (17.20-22)

Mrs. Turner takes legitimate pride in her highly popular and successful restaurant, but her pride makes her susceptible to flattery and deception. Sop-de-Bottom and the rest of Tea Cake’s friends are merely feeding her vanity so they can blind her as they drag her restaurant down.

Chapter 18

"Dese people had mo’ sense than Ah did," Tea Cake said, as they dropped to the floor and lay there panting. "Us oughta went on wid ‘Lias lak he ast me." (18.62)

Tea Cake, caught in the midst of the fearsome hurricane, finally regrets his decision not to go with Elias when given the chance to flee to safety. God’s divine justice brings his pride low and humbles him.

[Elias:] "Yeah man. You and Janie wanta go? Ah wouldn’t give nobody else uh chawnce at uh seat till Ah found out if you all had anyway tuh go."

"Thank yuh ever so much, Lias. But we ‘bout decided tuh stay."

"De crow gahn up, man."

"Dat ain’t nothin’. You ain’t seen de bossman go up, is yuh? Well all right now. Man, de money’s too good on the muck. It’s liable tuh fair off by tuhmorrer. Ah wouldn’t leave if Ah wuz you." (18.10-13)

Tea Cake’s pride in making money and arrogant disbelief in the migrating Indians sets him up to be humbled by God and the hurricane. Elias’ offer gives Tea Cake an honest chance to show his humility before God, but he shuns it. Thus, Tea Cake is simply asking for some humble pie.

Chapter 19

She [Janie] tried to make them see how terrible it was that things were fixed so that Tea Cake couldn’t come back to himself until he had got rid of that mad dog that was in him and he couldn’t get rid of the dog and live. He had to die to get rid of the dog. But she hadn’t wanted to kill him. A man is up against a hard game when he must die to beat it. She made them see how couldn’t ever want to be rid of him. She didn’t plead to anybody. She just sat there and told and when she was through she hushed. (19.170)

During her testimony, Janie’s language is sure and authoritative because her pride and love for Tea Cake urge her to tell her story truthfully. She leaves no room for doubt about Tea Cake being a heroic and loving husband or how hard it was for her to kill him.

Vergible "Tea Cake" Woods

"Aw, twudn’t nothin’ much, doctah. It wuz all healed over in two three days," Tea Cake said impatiently. "Dat been over uh month ago, nohow. Dis is somethin’ new, doctah. Ah figgers de water is yet bad." (19.90)

Tea Cake arrogantly dismisses the idea that his sickness is caused by the bite from the mad dog. His impatience is an outward manifestation of his quick pride. This is the second time Tea Cake has overlooked a crucial fact (the coming hurricane and the mad dog) out of his masculine pride and he will be punished for it yet again.

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