Thursday, February 12, 2009

Author's Background - Chapter 1

As Janie Starks returns from Everglades back to the southern town she once lived in, those who envy her immediately judge her. However, the gossiping townsfolk do not seem to bother her. In fact, she simply walks past them without a word. Right from the start, Hurston incorporates her own sense of pride into the protagonist. We already know that Hurston was an outspoken, bold woman who was immensely proud of her heritage and submitted to no one. After her mother's death while she was still a teenager, she resorted to working menial jobs and struggled to finish her schooling due to the fact that her father had cut off funding for her education. At the age of twenty-six, she still had not finished high school.

In light of this information, it is no wonder Hurston pretended to be ten years younger than she actually was in order to qualify for free public schooling. In the first chapter of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie exerts an extremely youthful appearance. Evidently, the women sitting on the porch are envious of her outward youth and claim that "she's way past forty" and "she's 'way too old for a boy like Tea Cake" (3). Janie defies the societal expectations for middle-aged women just as Hurston did. She could care less that the other women are wondering "what dat ole forty year ole 'oman doin' wid her hair swingin' down her back lak some young gal" (2). In her days of youth, Hurston rarely listened to the caveats of her grandmother that she would be lynched if she did not stop inviting herself to take a ride with white passersby. As an extremely empowered female, Hurston never believed that growing old would inhibit her from achieving greatness, thus perpetuating her youth through a flamboyant sense of self-confidence.

Furthermore, Janie Starks is in control of her relationship with Tea Cake, unlike what the rumors of the gossiping women suggest. She tells Phoeby "Tea Cake is gone. And dat's de only reason you see me back here - cause Ah ain't got nothing to make me happy no more where Ah was at" (7). We can reasonably assume that she left Tea Cake of her own volition. Likewise, Hurston married Herbert Sheen in 1927, but later divorced him in 1931 commenting that he held her back. For Hurston, her own aspirations took precedence over relationships, because she realized that relationships required giving up part of herself.
I thought this image fit in well with the life of Zora Neale Hurston and Janie Starks. It's difficult to tell whether the silhouette is a man or a woman, breaking down gender stereotypes to focus on the independent nature of the individual. The figure is turning his or her back from the viewer, symbolizing the lack of dependence on others. Also, the figure's body language suggests self-confidence and a bold attitude, qualities both apparent in Hurston.

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