Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hurston’s Background: Racism

While Janie and Tea Cake are running away from the storm, they encounter a mad dog. As Tea Cake is helping Janie, he is bitten by the dog and gets rabies. Both Janie and Tea Cake fail to realize that the dog has rabies, so Tea Cake becomes insane and Janie has to kill him. Although this is a tragic result, if Tea Cake or Janie had visited a doctor or hospital earlier, it probably could have been avoided.

I feel that Tea Cake’s death by rabies ties to Zora Neale Hurston’s view of racism. Whites were still considered “superior” in Florida where Tea Cake and Janie live. This can be seen when Tea Cake is helping bury the dead and the guards tell him and the other workers that whites will be buried in boxes but blacks will simply be put in a mass grave. However, Doctor Simmons, the person who tries to help Tea Cake, is a white man. Despite the difference in skin color, he clearly cares about Tea Cake’s condition. This matches with Hurston’s tendency to gloss over racial inequities. Tea Cake and Janie are treated differently by various white men, which indicates that the lives of blacks had a balance of good and bad.

The way Tea Cake dies seems to match Hurston’s determination not to act like a “victimized black” (Holmes). Tea Cake’s death is partially his own fault because he chooses not to see a doctor. I am not sure how common rabies was back then, but Doctor Simmons is able to recognize the symptoms right away, and he has been around the muck for a long time. Although Doctor Simmons tries to help Tea Cake, the medicine arrives too late. It is important to note that the people in Palm Beach (most likely whites like Doctor Simmons) are willing to send the medicine to Tea Cake. In essence, the person who is most responsible for Tea Cake’s death is Tea Cake himself. Tea Cake cannot be considered a vulnerable black person who died because of an unsympathetic white society because of this fact. If Tea Cake had been killed by the white guards for not helping to take care of the dead, Hurston might have been indicating the mistreatment that blacks felt during her time period. Since Tea Cake dies of rabies, Hurston is saying that black people should not feel like victims in an unfriendly world.

At the end of the book, Janie returns to Eatonville. Although Tea Cake has died, she is peaceful and content with her life. This is a contrast to the “sobbing school of Negrohood” (Holmes) that Hurston despised. Despite having lived in a slightly racist environment, Hurston believed that blacks should be able to live satisfactory lives (during her time period) without claiming that they felt like they had been wronged.

(In terms of the picture, I think that Hurston would have liked to see blacks at an equal footing as whites. Instead of feeling victimized, the blacks would foster their own pride so that it would match that of the other race.)

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