Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Characterization: Joe Starks

Joe Starks is an interesting character because he is different from the rest of the black people Janie knows. When Janie first sees him, she notices that he wears fancy clothing and that he has the air of a white person.

From the beginning, Joe clearly values being a leader and being in control. He tries to convince Janie to go to Eatonville with him by creating a future in which is a great ruler. Joe goes to Eatonville with the intent of becoming important and being able to command others. When he finds out that Eatonville does not have a mayor, he decides to become the mayor himself. I think one of the best description’s of Joe’s personality comes from page 47: “There was something about Joe Starks that cowed the town. It was not because of physical fear… He had a bow-down command in his face, and every step he took made the thing more tangible.” His leadership and self-confidence become apparent with the many changes he brings to the town. With his strong will, the town gets a store, a street lamp, and a town ditch to drain the street in front of the store.

Joe cares more about logical thinking than emotions. Janie even notes that right after they are married, he does not speak in rhymes as Logan did, but he talks about his plans for Eatonville. This scarcity of emotion does not change after they have been in Eatonville for a while. Joe does not seem to focus on anything except business/mayor related issues. When Janie notes that this puts a strain on their relationship, he quickly dismisses the topic.

Joe seems to treat Janie like a trophy more than a wife. For example, the villagers elicit Joe’s disapproval when they ask Janie to make a speech at the opening of Joe’s store. He prevents her from making a speech and says that, “mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ like dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home” (43). Through his speech, Joe makes it clear that he does not consider Janie to be equal mentally to himself. He does not treat her as an independent woman who is capable of making decisions for herself. When he tells Janie to work around the store, he does so with asking for Janie’s opinion and leaves no room for argument from Janie.

In response to Erin’s question, I think that Joe is more of a herald than a mentor. As the herald, he brings a significant change in Janie’s life. However, as mentioned earlier, he does not seem to support Janie’s emotional and spiritual growth. He wants her to be a model wife without independence.

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