Sunday, February 22, 2009
Internal Conflict Rooted in Parental Expectations
In Chapter 2, after Nanny has seen Janie kiss Johnny, she is furious. Nanny was born a slave and was never respected as a human or a woman. She was raped by her master and never had much security in her life. This is why Nanny is so disapproving when she sees that Janie is interested in a boy that can't offer her much in life. She says she "don't want no trashy nigger, no breath-and-britches, lak Johnny Taylor usin' yo' [Janie's] body to wipe his foots on. (13)" She wants Janie to marry a man who will appreciate her as a wife and will offer he security, something Nanny never had.
We can see how these expectations to be secure conflict with Janie's free spirit later on, when she is married to Jody. Jody offers Janie a huge amount of security, but he domineers her. He makes her tie her hair up while she is working in the store. Janie's hair is her most distinctive feature and defines her physical appearance. By making Janie tie her hair up, Jody making Janie suppress her free spirit in an effort to make her more conventional. Janie stays in this relationship because she loved Nanny and wants to live the way Nanny would have wanted her too.
This dynamic is similar to that between Biff and Willy in Death of a Salesman. Willy sets up expectations of who Biff should be and the way he should live his life. He wants Biff to work a white collar job, play the game, and achieve levels of success that Willy never could. However, these expectations are in contrast with the tangible work outside that Biff seeks for his vocation. This sets up an internal conflict for Biff in which he cannot decide to pursue his own desires or to live out the dreams of his father.