Their Eyes Were Watching God: Chapters 7-20
Pretty unrealistic of me to start this project, wasn't it? After all, I was always the kid powering through the last fifty pages of the reading assignment on the bus on the way to school. Of course I waited until this week to finish the book.
Full disclosure: A big part of the reason I picked Their Eyes Were Watching God (besides the fact I already had it on my bookshelf) is that the story takes place where I live. Well, not in my house, but in Eatonville, Florida, a little town within the Orlando metroplex. This week is actually Zorafest in Eatonville, when prominent black writers and entertainers gather to elucidate the masses a little bit more about what Hurston was trying to say. I figured if I couldn't read this one before I left the area, I would have failed her memory. (I'd actually intended to attend Zorafest and report back here, but they want a hundred damn dollars. Forget that noise.)
When we last left Janie, she was battered and beaten down by her husband, Joe Starks. Lucky for her, his pride ate him from the inside and he died after just twenty years of holding her down and keeping her exploratory spirit in check. Janie is now a free woman! She can do whatever she wants! As long as it's tending the store she now owns and not crossing the locals who expect more from the mayor's wife.
That's why when young Vergible Woods shows up in her store one day and gradually sweeps her off her feet, they bail on Eatonville and head for the Everglades. Woods (or, as he's known for the rest of the novel, "Tea Cake") is a drifter, a grifter, a common man without a penny to his name, but he is determined to spend it all on Janie. She eats it up -- finally, a dude who puts her first rather than his own success. That's all she ever wanted, love and affection. It doesn't shame her to take off the fancy dresses she wore as mayor's wife and get down in the vegetable rows picking beans with the rest of them -- more time with the new man. Finally, she's found true love.
Of course, if it was that easy, this would never have become a Great American Novel. Not two years go by in the life of Mr. and Mrs. Woods before Hurricane Gabriel smashes into Belle Glade, sending them running in its face. They find high ground, but it floats away; they reach a tall bridge, but it's packed too full for any more campers; Janie nearly drowns, is saved by a cow, and almost gets killed by a dog before Tea Cake gets it first, but not without a scrape of his own.
Ironically, this -- not the hurricane, not the running through swamps, not the white men who coerce him into service burying the dead and shoot at him when he runs -- is what kills Tea Cake. Of course the dog is rabid, and of course Tea Cake waits too long for treatment, and of course the book turns into Old Yeller. The sickness drives him mad, to the point where he points a gun at Janie and pulls the trigger three times, the hammer clicking impotently in the empty cylinders. She knows the fourth one has a bullet in it, and she knows he's not going to stop, and she knows it's as good as suicide as far as love is concerned, but she hoists his rifle and kills him before the rabies can kill her.
And here's where Janie shows she is the original Strong Black Woman. She learns from this experience, she takes it to heart. And she's still not worried about what anyone else thinks. Talk is cheap, after all; experience pays. "Two things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyselves," she tells her friend Pheoby. "They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves."
February's book: Well, I sort of blew it by reading this one already, it being Black History Month and all. But never fear -- there are plenty of black authors available on the list. So we'll be reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Feel free to join in!
Posted by Endymion at January 31, 2008 09:09 PM