Home » Male figures in Zora Neal Hurston`s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Alice Walker`s The Color Purple

Male figures in Zora Neal Hurston`s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Alice Walker`s The Color Purple

The heroines of the books Alice Walker: The Color Purple and Zora Neal Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God have to go through the trials and tribulations of a woman to the whole male dominated society. They are raped, beaten, abused, neglected, etc… just to be told to shut up and take it. On the very first pages of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the contrast is made between men and women, thus initiating Janie’s search for her own dreams and foreshadowing the “female quest” theme of the rest of the novel.

So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see” (Hurston, 14) The plot centers around Janie, a character some critics say is mimicked after Hurston herself, and her journey toward self-discovery. As a victim of circumstance, Janie becomes a victim of her own position. She is raised to uphold the standards of her grandmother’s generation; she is taught to be passive and subject to whatever life gives her.

But as Janie grows older she begins to realize that the world may not like it, but she as got to follow her desires, not suppress them. Janie is raised by her grandmother. Janie’s grandmother set her goal for Janie’s life by saying, “Ah wanted you to look upon yo’ self. Ah don’t want yo’ feathers always crumpled by folks throwin’ up things in yo’ face” (Hurston, 14). Her grandmother has a desire to see Janie in a ‘safe’ place, or in other words, a place where she will never have to want for anything.

Nanny tries to protect her young granddaughter Janie by marrying her to a man that can give Janie enough to eat and wear. Even though Nanny’s idea of marriage is based on materials and she doesn’t care much bout Janie’s feeling, she believes that everything she does is the best thing for Janie. She is just trying to do her best to keep Janie from suffering, and wishes Janie fulfill her dreams of freedom and joy. Janie believes that she should fulfill her own dream by marrying a man that she loves, and she disregards the importance of material wealth.

Janie only sees the reason to marry if it is true love. “… the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the cstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation”. (Hurston, 24)

Janie loved her grandmother and wanted to please her even though she did not agreed with all of the plans her grandmother had made. Janie had been angry at her grandmother for having ‘taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon… and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her grandmother’s neck tight enough to choke her'” (Reich, 4). Janie’s grandmother was old and weak. She never had a person in her life who cared for her and truly wanted to look out for her well-being. As a result, she is frightened by Janie’s refusal to marry for convenience instead of love. Janie’s grandmother describes herself as “a cracked plate” (Hurston, 19). Janie learns a very important lesson from her grandmother.

Not a lesson to emulate, but one to avoid. She does not want to be a cracked plate; she is tall and blossoming and can see what she wants in her life. She does not get what she wants with Logan Killicks, her first husband. Janie married Logan because her grandmother wanted her to. Her grandmother could not understand why she did not love him, as he had sixty acres of land. Janie did not love him, and describes him as “. . . some ole skullhead in de grave yard” (Hurston, 13) and his house as “a lonesome place like a stump in the middle of the woods . . absent of flavor” (Hurston, 20).

When Janie goes to live with him, at first Logan gives her anything she wants and treats her like a princess. Then as time goes on he starts telling her that she is spoiled and that she needs to do work. Since she did not marry him for love, tensions arise as time moves on and Logan egins to order her around. But Janie is young and her will has not yet been broken. “She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman” (Hurston, 24).

Janie’s eyes are still full of pollen dust, and she cannot get her perfect vision of love out of her mind. Logan makes her do menial chores around the house, and treats her like a mule. She prays for the day when she will be delivered from the life of monotony that she lives. She thinks that her prayers are answered when she first sees Joe Starks. In fact, she first sees him through a veil of her hair, and it is er long, luxurious hair that he is first attracted to. She thinks that he is “a bee for her blossom” (Hurston, 31).

The initial description of him, “. . . a cityfied, stylish dressed man with his hat set at an angle that didn’t belong in [those] parts” (Hurston, 26) immediately sets a firm image in the reader’s mind, so no one is surprised when Janie leaves “ole skullhead” and decides to marry Joe instead. She thinks that he represents the romantic ideal that she has been searching for. Soon, however, Janie sees that while Joe loves her beauty, he does not even see anything else that she has to offer. Joe is a man who is concerned with little except power.

He wants it, and he is going to use Janie to get it. He is cruel to Janie, and stomps out all of her free will. He builds his town of Eatonville as the newly elected mayor, crushing all in his path, making many enemies, including Janie, along the way. After Janie marries Joe, she discovers that he is not the person she thought he was. He tells her what to do the same way Logan did, just a little bit more delicately by saying that it is not a woman’s job to do whatever he does not want her to do. Joe made her keep her hair up because e had seen other men looking at her.

Joe also wouldn’t let Janie talk to other people because he felt that she didn’t need to be part of the gossip. Throughout her twenty years of life with Joe, Janie loses her self- consciousness because she becomes like a little child being told what to do by an adult, Joe. She does it without even questioning herself, which is why I think that she loses the part of her voice that she has discovered by running away from Logan. At times, she has enough courage to say no to Joe, but he always has something to say back that discourages Janie from continuing her argument.

When people ask her to make a speech, he cuts her off, “[taking] the bloom off things” (Hurston, 41). He views her as an ornament, nothing else. She never realized just how tied down she was by him until he dies. As soon as he takes his last breath, “she . . . let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there” (Hurston, 83). With the releasing of her hair, Janie lets her soul out from behind the iron smile she has kept on her face to keep Joe happy. At this point in her life, Janie has decided that she no longer needs to please another person.

She is still looking for her perfect pear-blossom orld, however. She finds it in one of the most unlikely places. Tea Cake is younger than she, poorer than she, and can offer her nothing but love. Fortunately, all Janie needs is love. He doesn’t want to use her as a mule, or as an ornament, or as anything but a person to love. This is not to say that their life together is completely without its share of fights and arguments, but they are both willing to sacrifice everything for each other.

Janie is “thankful fuh anything [they came] through together” (Hurston, 158), and Tea Cake calls Janie “mah wife and mah woman and verything else in de world Ah needs” (Hurston, 119). When she’s with Tea Cake, Janie allows her “soul to [crawl] out from its hiding place” (Hurston, 112), which is all she wants. She is happy because Tea Cake asks for her opinion when he does something and cares about her. Since this is Janie’s first marriage where she actually loves her husband, she feels free and discovers many new things in life that she has not noticed before.

She becomes more sociable, wants to go places with Tea Cake, enjoys working with other people, and likes shooting game. Although he never shot a rifle before, she becomes a better shooter that Tea Cake, and he respects her for that, which allows Janie to get back her self- respect which she had lost while being with her previous husbands. In a way, Janie’s spiritual awakening begins when she lives with Tea Cake. Finally, she finds happiness with Tea Cake, and it means so much more, because she has decided to go through with it on her own.

Discovering the “two things everybody’s got to do fuh theyselves,” is Janie’s personal victory (Hurston, 183). “They got tuh go tuh God, and they got to find out bout livin’ fuh theyselves,” are the sentiments shared by Janie once her journey is over (Hurston,183). Tea Cake’s death reveals as much about his relationship with Janie as his life did. When he dies, Janie mourns in her overalls, because “she was too busy feeling grief to dress like grief” (Hurston, 180). Throughout the novel Janie is confronted with the compelling desire of men to make her a “proper” woman. She is taught to be submissive.

She is taught to have no opinion and no initiative. However, she learns over time, she has the growing feeling that something is missing, possibly her lack of elf-confidence. She soon becomes her own person, casting her given lot aside, and seeking a new one on her own path, discovering her dreams and her identify. In a similar way, the heroine of Alice Walker: Color Purple, Celie, is confronted with the cruelty of men around her throughout her whole life. She has been even less fortunate than Janie; the men are even more brutal to her than they have been to Janie.

Janie has never been tortured physically but we can see Celie`s torment on the very first page of Color Purple, where she is raped by her father. “First he put this thing up ainst my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Then he grab hold my titties. Then he push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying you better shut up and git used to it. ” (Walker, 1-2) Celie became pregnant with her father’s children. He takes them from her and Celie thinks he killed them.

Another man who has been cruel to Celie is Mr. ____. Mr. ____, as he is called throughout the novel, was a wife beater, who, having been denied Celie’s sister, marries Celie to look after his children. He beats her, rapes her, overworks her, abuses her and is just plain nasty to her. “What s it like? He git up on you, heist your nightgown round your waist, plunge in. Most times I pretend I ain’t there. He never know the difference” (Walker). Even Mr. _____`s son Harpo is mean to her, as well as the other Mr. _____`s children. with “… oldest boy. He twelve… He pick up a rock and laid my head open.

The blood… ” (Walker, 13). Celie does not know how to defend herself against her abusers “I don’t know how to fight” (Walker, 18). Finally, one day, after Celie discovers another mean thing that Mr. ____ did to her, she leaves with her girlfriend to start a new life. Mr. _____ is left all alone. Mr. ____ comes upon a big change in his life when Celie finally leaves him. Mr. ____ is left all by himself and forced to survive and maintain himself on his own. Here is where he runs into some problems. Here is where the big change takes place.

He starts to fall apart. He becomes afraid of the dark, and just gives up on life. That was his meanness that started to destroy his life. Now, just as Mr. ____ is nearing death, his son Harpo, starts to take care of him. Mr. ____ changes his evil ways and begins to show some compassion and love. Mr. ___ starts to love Harpo again. Now Mr. ___’s life takes towards revival. He becomes a new man. Once he starts to love, his life starts to look up again. His and his son’s love redeemed him. “The more I wonder, he say, the more I love.

And people start to love you back, I bet, I say. They do, he say, surprise. Harpo seem to love me. ” (Walker, 290) The end of the novel shows a markedly different Mr. ____ than the beginning of the novel portrays. In the end of the novel Mr. ____ and Celie actually have a civilized conversation and begin to see face to face. They become friends and often visit each other’s homes and chat on the porch while sewing. Mr. ____ look at me real thoughtful. He not such a bad looking man you know, when you come right down to it.

And now it do begin to look like he got a lot of feeling hind his face. ” (Walker, 280) The only positive man character in the book is Celie`s son Adam who shows his great love and compassion to the African girl which he intents to marry by undergoing the same face scaring ritual she went through. Celie starts out in the beginning of the novel as the “slave” to her father. First allowing herself to be raped and bearing his children and taking his abuse. Then on to the abuse that her “husband”, Mr. ___ shows towards her.

Celie accepts all of this treatment, this is the only life that she has known. She thinks that since she is only a woman this is the way that she is supposed to be treated. Then, all of the sudden a certain event causes her to dramatically change her course of thinking. This change is caused by the influence of a character that is new to the book. This character gives Celie the love and the respect that she always lacked. Celie was given the sense of being, a sense that she was a real person. A person with feelings, with a heart and a soul. A person that could love and be loved.

This person gave her all of these feelings as well as a fresh new start and a new outlook on life. “For Walker, redemptive love requires female bonding. ” (Prescott) This person became her lover. This person was Shug Avery. For Janie and Celie life has not been easy. Men surrounding them made their life a nightmare. They have been abused physically and mentally. Their own voice had to be hushed and they had to obey the men they have encountered. They had to find their own voice, to find themselves and respect what they found in themselves in order to find their deliverance.

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