Thursday, February 26, 2009

Language Appreciation: Janie's Panic

In Chapter 13, I came across a particularly compelling passage following Tea Cake and Janie's marriage and relocation to Jacksonville. He promises her that he will get her fish to fry for breakfast, but happens to borrow her money to splurge. Janie's reaction is one of disbelief and consternation:

"But, don't care how firm your determination is, you can't keep turning round in one place like a horse grinding sugar cane. So Janie took to sitting over the room. Sit and look. The room inside looked like the mouth of an alligator - gaped wide open to swallow something down. Outside the window Jacksonville looked like it needed a fence around it to keep it from running out on ether's bosom. It was too big to be warm, let alone to need somebody like her. All day and night she worried time like a bone" (118).

I love the indirect comparison of Janie to a horse grinding sugar cane. Both possess stubborn and willful qualities along with determination; however Janie realizes that there is no point in looking for the money when it clearly is not there, so she stops to think. Though she hates to admit she might have made a mistake in marrying Tea Cake, she cannot help but think of Annie Tyler, another woman who had been taken advantage of. Grinding the sugar cane represents the pursuit of a highly romanticized and ideal lifestyle that is seeming to fail Janie in this passage. However, we must keep in mind that the sugar cane provides no benefit for the horse. The horse is essentially a means to a profit for his/her master, just as Janie fears being used by men once again. As her grandmother told her before, she knows the harsh reality is that black women are the subservient mules of the world. However, Janie constantly tries to push away this reality since it conflicts with her idealistic thoughts of romance. At this moment, though, Nanny's advice is coming back to haunt her, resulting in an ambivalence and doubt in sentiments toward men.

Moreover, the comparison of the room to an alligator flagged my interest. Janie is fearful that she has fed herself to the "alligator" of false promises. It threatens to swallow any independence gained after Joe's death and crush it to pieces, preying on Janie's naivety. Jacksonville is too much for her and she begins to feel unwanted and insignificant. Of course, she did not expect to feel abandoned before since Tea Cake had lavished attention on her. She begins to feel like a tiny, negligible part of a foreign entity she feels she cannot fit in with. Due to Nanny's upbringing, she cannot help but question whether or not Tea Cake genuinely loves her or is merely using her. She lacks a basic trust in Tea Cake, even though she terribly wants so much to have faith in him.

1 comment:

  1. The imagery with the horse and the sugar cane didn't make that much sense to me before, but I like your take on it. Janie definitely has difficulty trusting men.
    I think that Janie's uncertainty appears many times throughout the novel. She is not sure about her marriage to Logan. At first, she is not certain whether or not she should leave him. When meeting Tea Cake, she again shows this uncertainty. Hurston certainly did a good job describing this emotion. I can imagine how dull passages would become if she simply used "uncertain" every single time. However, with images of horses and alligators, she vividly shows these emotions instead of simply stating them.

    (By the way, I really like the picture!)