Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 5

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Chapter 5

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  • Joe isn’t a romantic poet, but he at least treats Janie well, getting her nice food and candy. He seems to want to spoil her as much as Logan wanted to make her work hard.
  • When Janie looks at Joe, she’s reminded of white people; he’s slightly portly like them and unafraid of new, strange places. So far, Janie’s proud of her new husband.
  • They arrive in the highly anticipated town and find it disappointing. It's much smaller than they imagined. Joe demands to talk to the mayor.
  • A man named Amos Hicks, upon seeing Janie, pretends to be the mayor. He thinks Janie is Joe’s daughter, but when he finds out the truth, he drops the façade since he’s definitely not getting anywhere with the pretty, married girl.
  • Joe discovers that the town doesn’t have a mayor yet.
  • Hick directs Joe and Janie to a house that they can rent until they are settled and get their own place.
  • Joe and Janie head off, but Hicks and the other townsmen are all ready envying Joe for having Janie.
  • Hicks, in particular, is jealous and starts blabbering on about how popular he is with the ladies. Hicks thinks it’s a "good thing he [Joe Starks] married her befo’ she seen me. Ah kin be some trouble when Ah take uh notion."
  • The town is named Eatonville after the captain who donated land. The captain lives on a neighboring piece of land, and Joe ventures to talk to Captain Eaton, seeking to buy more land from him for the town.
  • Most of the village follow Joe just to see him get ridiculed.
  • Meanwhile, Hicks doubles back to the house that Joe is renting to try his luck with Janie. He thinks the world of his manliness and grows surly when Janie doesn’t respond to him. She basically tells him that he talks too much. Looks like Joe doesn’t have any competition around here.
  • Later that evening, Hicks has a conversation with his friend, Coker. Coker know Hicks didn’t succeed with Janie, so he lets Hicks go on about how Janie isn’t so pretty after all.
  • Coker tells Hicks that Joe succeeded in buying 200 acres of land from the captain in cash. Joe Starks plans to build a store and post office on the land. Eatonville previously only consisted of 50 acres, so Joe Starks just became the big man in town.
  • Hicks gets jealous and doubts that Joe will actually start a post office. Hicks is sure that white people won’t let a black man run a post office.
  • Coker, on the other hand, seems to thinks that Joe Starks is capable of a lot and doesn’t find it wise to underestimate him.
  • That evening, Joe asks around about the location of a sawmill. He wants to start building a store immediately. He knows that, in order to grow, Eatonville needs a store, which can also serve as a gathering place and the heart of the town. This guy is a natural urban planner.
  • The next day, Joe organizes a town meeting. The men of the town decide to get together to make two roads to run through Eatonville. Joe also hires some men to build his store.
  • Joe’s business skills bring in new residents, so Joe is already making a return on his investment by selling off lots for homes. Joe also starts selling tons of goods from the store before the building even has a roof.
  • For the grand opening of the store, Joe wants Janie on display. He wants to make sure that she always looks better than all of the customers, too.
  • Joe is magnanimous and gives out free drinks, cheese, and crackers to the customers.
  • Tony Taylor is so overwhelmed with joy at the progress of the town that he gives an impromptu speech thanking Joe. He is laughed at by his fellows because he doesn’t know how to give an effective speech.
  • Nevertheless, Joe responds with his own speech in which he says that the town needs a mayor (what a slick politician!) and welcome to his store…
  • The town shows their pleasure by unanimously voting him mayor.
  • The cheerful crowd wants a thank-you speech from Mrs. Mayor Starks, but Joe doesn’t let Janie speak, saying that he didn’t marry her for her speaking ability and her place is in the home.
  • Janie didn’t really care to make a speech, but it bothers her that Joe didn’t even give her a chance to decide. It leaves her cold that night.
  • Joe is full of plans for town (and full of himself). He insists that he can’t run the store because he’ll be busy with more important things. Joe is determined that Janie must run the store, despite her objections.
  • The town continues advancing. Joe arranges for street lamps to be brought in and makes a big deal about lighting them. He arranges a party around it, complete with a barbecue.
  • The lighting of the street lamps is surrounded by religious imagery and hymns. But, later that night, Janie reveals that she feels Joe’s role as mayor makes their relationship strained and unnatural. Joe disagrees, saying she should be happy because it makes a "big woman" out of her. The conversation ends with Janie feeling lonely.
  • Janie soon learns that being Mrs. Mayor means being kept at a distance from the other women in town. Instead of being friends with the local women, she is envied by them.
  • Joe is also a bit of a town bully. He somehow has a way of forcing people to do things for him, like dig drainage ditches around the streets by his store.
  • In every way, Joe sets himself up as the master of the town. It harkens back to the times of slavery. Joe has a huge, white two-story house, making everyone else’s house look like a servant’s.
  • Joe acquires a fancy spittoon cup that most people would be proud to display as a vase. He doesn’t stop there, either. He gets a small flowery one for Janie. Joe’s conspicuous displays of wealth make the townspeople feel cheated and envious.
  • They become increasingly resentful because they feel one of their own (a black man) shouldn't act haughtily.
  • After Joe catches a man, Henry Pitts, trying to steal some of his ribbon cane (candy) and drives him out of town, the townspeople start gossiping about their mayor behind his back.
  • Some point out that he’s getting rich off of the rest of them.
  • They basically accuse him of loving to hear his own speeches, being bossy, and being arrogant because of his education. Someone observes that he changes things around him but never lets himself be changed.
  • The townspeople also disapprove of the way Joe treats his wife. Janie is kept under certain constraints. She must keep her hair bound and up whenever she’s in public, and Joe rages at her if she makes a mistake in the store.
  • Janie seems to take Joe’s tyranny without missing a beat; because they don’t know any better, the townspeople decide it’s because she and Joe "understand one another."
  • Overall, Joe Starks acts like the king of the town, and despite disliking him, the townspeople don’t challenge him.

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