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Allison
Pennington

Minority
Lit

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November
25th, 2017

Janie’s Quest for her Identity

Introduction

Postcolonial literary academic approach
revolves around the fact that Black people’s identity has been oppressed since
historical times. The identification of Black people as normal human beings,
however, came to pass during the postcolonial discourse (Fard and Bahman, 96).
Racial discrimination has continuously been propagated by people in the society
with whites enjoying more privileges as compared to their counterparts.
Researchers argue that identity is not a priori or an end product but a process
that leads to the realization of self-image. Zero Neal Hurston uses her
literary work to help her main character realize her true identity and find her
real self. Being the main character, Janie has been used by the author to
develop several themes which include; love, racism, rebellion, the plight of
women among many other themes. However, it is through her quest for true love
and romantic relationship that Janie ends up in two miserable marriages until
she finds her real soul mate in the third and final marriage though it also
ends tragically. It was only by living through three marriages with three
different men that Janie was able to find her true self.

Quest
for Identity

The disappearance of Leafy, Janie’s
mother, after she was raped by her teacher and sired Janie, makes Nanny;
Leafy’s mother to shift all her attention to her grandchild Janie. She wants
the best for her daughter Leafy in marriage but unfortunately she escapes from
home before she could secure her a rich husband who would provide her with
protection. Nanny’s theory of marriage does not acknowledge love and she
believes that being protected and having enough is all a woman should seek for
in such an institution. Janie, learns of her ethnicity later when she looks at
one of her images and realizes that she had been black all along despite having
mingled freely with white children in the estate. Nanny’s determination to
secure a wealth and protective husband for her granddaughter grows especially
when Janie starts becoming sexually active and feels like she needs to be in a
romantic relationship. Nanny catches her kissing with Johnny Taylor, one of the
random boys in the locality. This scenario provides the grandmother with an
opportunity to lure her grandchild into marriage. She has already confirmed
that she is of age. She scolds her about the act of aimlessly kissing boys she
does not wish to enter into lifetime commitment with. She lures her into
getting married of to the rich Logan:

“Ah was born back due 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’ … Ah
didn’t want to be used for a workox …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. Freedom found me wid a baby daughter in mah arms … Ah said Ah’d save de
text for you. Ah been waitin’ a long time, Janie … just take a stand on high
ground lak Ah dreamed.” II, 188

 Nanny’s suggestion of marrying off Janie to
Logan meets rebellion as she is not ready to settle with an old man especially
one whom she barely loves. However, Nanny justifies her concept and convinces
Janice into believing that marriage is all about wealth and protection. She
makes Janie to believe that once she settles with Logan, love will follow suit.
Janice gets into her first marriage with Logan who has a house and 60 acres of
land. According to Nanny, that is enough protection to grant Janice a happy
life. The first marriage does not however offer Janice a clear picture of what
she had visualized while sitting under the pear tree. The imagery of the pear
tree signifies a happy romantic life full of mutual understanding. Logan makes
Janie his worker and ensure that she accompanies him to the farm daily. He is
completely romantically detached to Janie and this provokes her to rebel. Janie
starts doubting her grandmother’s concept especially after she presents several
cases of how her husband was not any romantic and neither did he treat her like
a woman. Surprisingly, the Nanny’s belief in the traditional concept of women
being objects of submission makes her to scold Janie and further inform her
that she is the one on fault.

The passing on of Janie’s grandmother and
continuous maltreatment by Logan makes her ready to leave the marriage. At this
point, Janie’s character can be compared to that of rebellious slaves during
the prehistoric period who would prefer dying rebels than suffering as slaves.
She strives to get off the bondage and openly tells Logan that she would one
day leave him. Logan takes the threat lightly but is concerned about how Janie
has suddenly grown to be full of strength and rebellion against him. The entry
of Joe into the picture opens a new page for Janie. As a passerby, Joe, a
well-built young man passes by to ask for drinking water on his way to his
hometown. They develop affectionate feelings towards each other, and it is at
this point that Janie sneaks more often to meet her new love, Joe. Her new
suitor expresses his affectionate feelings towards. Up to this point, Janie
still depends on her Nanny’s theory of wealth, power, and security as the major
sources of happiness in a marriage. Joe manages to convince Janie to elope with
him: “The day you puts yo’ hand in mine, Ah wouldn’t let de sun go down on us
single. Ah’m uh man wid principles. You ain’t never knowed what it was to be
treated lak a lady and Ah wants to be de one tuh show you.”IV, 198. After
father arrangements, Janie elopes with Joe who is set to run for his town
gubernatorial seat which he successfully clinches. He treats Janie like the
queen that he is. At this point, Janie probably believes that her Nanny’s
concept is actually the best. She enjoys the privilege of being the governor’s
wife and commands respect across the town. Joe goes with her to the store more
often and allows her to work.

However, Janie soon realizes that the
concept of wealth and security resulting in a romantic love relationship is
just a myth. Joe starts being overprotective over Janie. Whenever people come
to the store, Joe realizes that most male clients would stare and admire his
wife and her long hair. He exercises male chauvinism over her and orders she
covers her hair with rags. At this point, Janie realizes that she is not into a
romantic love relationship but has rather been changed into possession by her
husband, Joe. He grows extremely jealous and would not allow her to be in touch
with her neighbors even the female ones. During his house meetings with fellow
politicians, Joe secludes his wife from most of the discussions. In one of the
meetings he denies his wife to give a speech despite the attendees having
requested for her to do so: “Thank yah fuh ‘yo’compliments, but mah wife don’nt
 know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin.’ Ah
never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She is uh woman and her place is in
d’home.” V, 208.  He believes that the
place of the woman is in the home. He whispers when in his house with friends
and this annoys Janie who feels like she has been over possessed by her husband
who takes her for a property more than a marital partner. Janice fails to
realize her true self in her second marriage. She loathes how the bed which
serves the purpose of a play center for her and Joe has turned to somewhere she
only retires to while tired and sleepy. In an attempt to release herself from
the bondage, she rebels at the store in front of most male friends to Joe:

“Stop mixin’ up mah doings wid my looks …
Ah’m uh woman every inch of me, and Ah know it. Dat’s uh whole lot more’n you
kin say. You big-bellies round here and put out a lot of brag, but ‘tant
nothin’ to it, but yo’ big voice. Humh! Talking bout me lookin’ old! When you
pull down yo britches, you look lak de change uh life.” VII, 238.

 Her
husband is angered by her actions and he would not even touch her. Although
Janie feels incomplete, she decides to keep off Joe. Things get hotter when
Joe’s health begins to deteriorate and he is diagnosed with kidney failure. His
death marks another new beginning to Janie’s life. She decides to search for
her true self-using the concept that she believes in. According to Janie’s
theory, a marital relationship should be one encompassed with care, romance,
and love. Despite receiving applications from several suitors, she decides not
to follow her emotions hurriedly. She is approached by most female friends who
advise her to get married again because she needs protection. 

Her third and final marriage comes
abruptly though it depicts dissimilarity from the first two. While going about
her normal operations in the store, she is approached by Tea Cake, a young man
who is on his way to the next town for a game but unfortunately loses his
direction. He seems accommodating, charming, and loving. Janie could not help
her eyes in resisting his perfect physique. This defines the stature of a Black
woman; too willing to love over and over again without much insight on what may
be awaiting her in the marriage (Ashmawi, 203). The relationship starts
uninvited and with all her wealth, Janie cannot believe that she would fall in
love with the peasant Tea Cake.  Phoeby
warns her of getting in relationship with Tea Cake as he would only squander
her money and wealth. The third marriage presents an opportunity for Janie to
realize her real self through her own theory and concept about love and
romantic relationship. The love between Janie and Tea Cake thrives and this is
further demonstrated by his ability to protect her especially from the bite of
a rabies dog during the hurricane that killed most of the community members and
destroyed a lot of property. Janie realizes that true love exists and it does
not necessarily follow her grandmother’s theory. However, her happiness and
romantic fantasy is short-lived as her husband’s health starts deteriorating
due to the rabies infection (Keiko, 103). Her current identity and definition
of true love push her to do everything for the ailing Tea Cake. The doctor,
however, warns Janie against staying closer with her husband due to the effects
of the rabies attack which may make him angry and short tempered more often. He
lives behind antiserum as the prescription.

Janie becomes completely dumbfounded but
decides to follow the doctor’s advice which later provokes Tea Cake who had
begun to accuse Janie of cheating on him. Prior, he had slapped Janie but they
laughed afterward as she understood that he did that out of love. Janie has
been completely brainwashed with her quest for identity in her marriage with
Tea Cake and she only realizes that he had always had bad plans for her at his
deathbed where she discovers a gun tucked under his people. The author, despite
having used foreshadow through the way Janie and Tea Cake met and eloped,
leaves the reader anticipating for why such a perfect marriage would have a tragic
ending. In liberating herself in self-defense, Janie kills Tea Cake who had
already shot at her thrice fruitlessly. The author presents Janie’s final
marriage as one that made her realize whom she truly was. Her marriage to Tea
Cake was a genuine one and unlike during the burial of Joe where she faked
agony, she becomes more remorseful and offers Tea Cake and respectable
send-off.  

“It was the meanest moment of eternity …
she had wanted him to live so much and he was dead. … Janie held his head tightly
to her breast and wept and thanked him wordlessly for giving her the chance for
loving service. She had to hug him tight for soon he would be gone.” XIX, 326

Despite being arraigned in court on murder
charges, Janie feels contented for having realized her true identity.

Conclusion

In summary, this paper focused on the way
Janie strives to realize her real identity through her three marriages to three
different men. Being a Black woman, she has been subjected to harsh treatment
in the hands of harsh white husbands and the oppressive Black man norms and
values. Her Nanny has been used to ensure that she follows the Black man norms
which encourage women to be submissive to their husbands. In her first two
marriages, Janie was a passive character but the end of the second marriage
makes her start to develop a theory about her real identity. This part depicts
self-realization in the character of Janie. Her final marriage makes her to be
self-protected by killing her own husband, Tea Cake. However, her decision to
marry Tea Cake was not forced by anyone but through her voluntary decision in
quest to find her real identity. After the court clears her of the offense she
purportedly committed by killing her husband in self-defense, Janie seemingly
decides to remain a single woman. At this point, she has attained her freedom
and becomes an independent woman henceforth. 

 

 

 

Works
Cited

Ashmawi,
Yvonne Mesa-El. “Janie’s Tea Cake: Sinner, Saint, or Merely Mortal?” The Explicator 67.3 (2009):
203-206.doi.org/10.3200/EXPL.67.3.203-206

Bealer,
Tracy L. “The Kiss of Memory”: The Problem of Love in Hurston’s Their
Eyes Were Watching God.” African American Review 43.2 (2009): 311-327.

Bloom,
Harold, ed. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Infobase Publishing, 2008.

Dilbeck,
Keiko. “Symbolic Representation of Identity in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were
Watching God.” The Explicator 66.2 (2008): 102-104.
doi.org/10.3200/EXPL.66.2.102-104

Fard,
Zahra Mahdian, and Bahman Zarrinjooee. “A quest for identity in Zora Neal
Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” International Journal of Literature and Arts 2 (2014): 92-97. Doi:
10.11648/j.ijla.20140204.12

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