Thursday, February 12, 2009

Theme: Taking Action

At the beginning of the novel, the people in Eatonville have gathered at Pheoby’s porch and are gossiping with each other. They are particularly interested in Janie’s return. Janie is aware of this interest, and when she talks with Pheoby, Janie mocks the gossiping villagers by calling them “the Mouth-Almighty” (Hurston 5). She continues by saying “people like dem wastes up too much time puttin’ they mouf on things they don’t know nothin’ about” (Hurston 6). Clearly, Janie regards gossiping in a negative light. Zora Neale Hurston wrote a story about Janie’s journey, and by placing her support behind Janie, Hurston makes the readers sympathize with Janie and not with the gossiping villagers.

Through Janie’s comments on the other villagers, Hurston is illustrating the value of taking action. Janie, who has come home after a year and a half, is unique because she is the only person who has been on a journey in the novel (at least in Chapter 1). Although we as readers do not know exactly what happened to her, she has clearly gone through many experiences because she calls herself “a delegate to de big ’ssociation of life” (Hurston 6). Janie probably did not start her journey without forethought, but the important part is that she acted on her thoughts. The villagers probably have dreams too, but they have not pursued these desires. Therefore, while the villagers can speculate about what happened to Janie, none of them have learned the lessons she has gained by experiencing things firsthand. In the end, Janie is the one who has a story worth telling, not the villagers who will only talk about inconsequential matters.

This idea might call into question why Janie is telling her story to Pheoby in the first place. By recounting her life experiences (which seem to be much more varied than the others in Eatonville), Janie is allowing Pheoby to catch a glimpse of the different opportunities that exist in life. Her speech is meant to inspire Pheoby to also live her life fully.

The theme of taking action versus simply talking and thinking will hopefully appear again in the novel. I imagine that we as readers will also be inspired by Janie’s life story as the novel progresses.

(In the image, the key represents the thoughts and hopes that people have (including the villagers). However, even if someone has a key, the key will do nothing that person actually uses the key to open the door. Similarly, Janie takes action and uses the key so that she may follow her thoughts.)

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