Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 6

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Chapter 6

  • Some of the men like to tease Matt Bonner about his skinny yellow mule. Though everyone loves the conversation (except Matt), Joe has forbidden Janie from joining in. He thinks she is too good for them, and Janie resents him for it.
  • She also resents how hard Joe makes her work in the store, especially since he doesn’t do much there himself. The most irksome thing, of course, is his staunch resolution for her to wear a head-rag in the store.
  • We learn Joe does this because he is supremely jealous of other men "figuratively wallowing" in his wife’s hair while she is going about her business in the store. But he does not tell Janie this; he simply commands her to wear the head-rag.
  • When Matt Bonner’s yellow mule gets loose, the men decide to catch it and tease it for fun. Janie watches helplessly, feeling sorry for the poor beast.
  • Then, Joe does something unexpected. He buys the mule from Matt Bonner. When Matt ridicules the mayor for it, saying that the mule will probably be dead within the week, Joe reveals that he hasn’t bought the mule to work but simply to give the poor animal some rest.
  • At this revelation, the others agree that it’s generous of Joe to do such a thing. Janie praises him for his big-heartedness, comparing him to Lincoln freeing the n****es, and one of the men remarks that Janie is a born orator.
  • The freed mule becomes the talk of the town, and the people imagine him doing a great many comic things.
  • Eventually, the mule dies with its legs stuck straight up in the air. One man named Lum concludes that the mule, being a spirited creature, saw death coming and fought to the end—which is why he was found in such an unnatural position.
  • The whole town has a great "draggin-out" for the dead mule, who has become something of a local celebrity, and they put on a hilarious funeral for him.
  • Everyone enjoys the funeral celebration immensely—except for Janie. Joe orders his wife to stay at the store because he claims it wouldn’t be proper for the mayor’s wife to be seen at such an event.
  • Janie is sullen afterward but silent. Joe sees her resentment but thinks she's just being petty and ungrateful for all the good things he does give her.
  • Much of the remainder of the chapter describes the townspeople having fun on the porch of the store, arguing and pretending to court young girls for Joe Starks’ entertainment.
  • Joe, of course, ruins all of Janie’s fun by making her stop watching the scene and go attend to some business in the store.
  • When one of the ladies being "courted" requests a pickled pig's foot (ew!), Lum (a guy that helps Janie out in the store) looks for the jar but can’t find any pig's feet.
  • Joe comes to look for the pig's feet, which should have arrived the previous day. He can’t find them, and he can’t find the bill that came with the shipment. He blames Janie, and they get into a fight, with her sick of him bossing her around and him saying he only tells her what to do "'cause you need tellin" and "somebody got to think for women and chillun and chickens and cows. I god, they sho don’t think none theirselves." Ouch.
  • Eventually, after a number of scenes like this, Janie gives up trying to fight Joe because it just makes him more mad and demand her submission. She just hushes and takes it.
  • Janie is only 24, and she’s been married for seven years. By this time, she realizes that their marriage is falling apart. She doesn’t even associate their bed with anything fun anymore; it’s just a place to sleep.
  • Even worse, after these seven years, Joe slaps Janie for messing up his dinner. At that point, Janie realizes that she is saving herself up for some other man and that she has learned how to hide her inner thoughts from Joe while putting up a front.
  • Joe, for all his sexism, does want peace with Janie, but on his own terms.
  • At the end of the chapter, the men at the store lampoon Mrs. Tony, a townswoman, for her impudent behavior, saying that her husband should beat her. Janie speaks up in the defense of women—telling the men how pretentious and ignorant they are for thinking they know everything about women. Joe quickly silences her.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 6 Study Group

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