Sunday, February 15, 2009

Art Mirrors Reality: Separating Janie Mae Crawford and Zora Neale Hurston

Within these first five chapters, I was incredibly struck by how much Janie's life mirrors Nora Zeale Hurston's. In Hurston's childhood, she was incredibly influenced by her grandmother because of her mother's death and father's subsequent ignorance, very similarly to how Janie is raised by her grandmother after her mother and father run off. Also, Janie has close interactions with a white family during her youth, so much so that she does not even think that she is an African American when she sees a photo of herself. This reminded me of Hurston's hailing white carriages and chatting with the riders without any thought to societal expectations, such as her grandmother expecting her to be lynched. In addition, Janie's real age is debated at the beginning of the book by the sitters, and Pheoby proclaims that taking a few years off of her age is the worst crime that Janie commits and nothing she has done is worth being punished for. The last standout example I saw was in Janie's leaving Logan Killicks for Joe Starks. Although Janie did not have an official divorce, her marriage mirrors Hurston's in that both marriages lasted only a short while and they both left because they felt their husband had nothing left to offer them.

These similarities are extremely important when considering Hurston's characterization of Janie. Being raised by the same parental figure undoubtedly changes the way a person views the world because their grandmothers would be have more old fashioned ideals, such as Hurston's grandmother's fears towards white people and Janie's grandmother's reaction to seeing Janie kiss a man. It is also significant that neither of these woman developed a negative self view in respect to white people; they considered themselves equals because they were frequently in the company of the other race and were accepted therein, thus bolstering their confidence and defiance of stereotypes in society. The similarity in age discrepancies is interesting because it could be further proof that Hurston wrote this novel as a stylized and semi-fictional account of her life.

But I think the most important similarity between these two women is in their opinions of marriage and men. Janie marries Logan in order to be provided for and have a good life, but she does not love him and only hopes that she will develop feelings after a time. When this does not happen and Janie has another offer from Joe Starks, she has no reservations about leaving Logan. This shows that she shares Hurston's opinion about men because Hurston divorced her husband after a matter of months because she said he brought her work down. By refusing to be subservient to men as well as whites, Hurston creates a character who is incredibly independent for her time as well as as inspirational character. Not only does this show Hurston's opinion on how all women should view themselves, but also it gives the impression that Janie's character is based off of Hurston herself because of this uniqueness of this type of woman. Hurston could not have likely met anyone, other than herself, whose life and traits are similar to Janie, but it is likely that she - consciously or not - would have placed many pieces of herself into a character whom she gives the elixir to. Hurston spent much of her life advocating for black culture and women's intelligence, so it seems very plausible that she write a book showing a black woman who is confident in her abilities as a reflection of herself in order to show that woman can achieve a life like Janie's, free from restraints and societal expectations, and complete with self fulfillment.

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