Janie Mae Crawford is the protagonist in the novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937) that forms part of the works of Zora Neale Hurston. Different authors have found Janie Mae Crawford to accomplish different themes as intended by the author. For example, Foster (40) alludes that Janie displays the degree of racism in the United States of America. On the other hand, Jones (159) supposes that Janie is the representation of male chauvinism in most American households. Also, Lerner (287) postulates that the character is used to effectively assert that women are their worst enemies and the force against their empowerment. This paper contends that Janie Mae Crawford is the archetypal voice of the African American females during the pre-20th Century era because she shows the different problems that she encounters such as racism, males chauvinism, lack of love, and jealousy among women.
The author has ensured that the characters in the novel are the true representations of persons (Afro-Americans) by granting them the desire for family, possession of names, and the ability to speak English as a foreign language. In this regard, Foster (40) claimed, that the analysis of Janie Mae Crawford would make people dwell on the topic of prejudice that is associated with the African Americans in the United States during the 20th century. The lack of execution of standard language in Janie’s conversions shows that they were perceived as people of inferior intelligence since they lacked in language proficiency. However, this is not correct because there are various Afro-American women who had developed English proficiency. On the contrary, the Caucasians should be the ones deemed having lower intelligence because they could not grasp the African American languages. Even in the world of today, more than half of Africans either in the United States of America or in any other country are able to speak and write Standard English very fluently. However, very few Whites can speak the African languages (Henderson 121). As a result, the ingenuity of the character Janice was to show how African American women’s skin color is used to judge their intelligence, an approach that is wrong in most of the times.
Janie has been used by the author of the novel to perpetuate the theme of love. In the novel, Janie Mae Crawford is seen to be very sensitive to matter of love. She is portrayed as one who is vulnerable to heart breaks hence desiring to be married and live the American dream. In this regard, the novelist has ensured that Janie Mae Crawford is the voice of the many of the African American women across the country as far love life is concerned. Although not recognized or given concern by men, black women also had their dreams and desires but they were not empowered or given the opportunity to advance their skills and talents in the modern world (Foster 40). Therefore, Janie is the voice of the African American women concerning emotions and romance. Just like any other woman who is highly an emotional being, so are the black women and as such they should be treated so. During and even post-slavery period, the African American women were considered more as tools for sex, child bearers, and domestic managers than soul mates and lovers (Jones 159).
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The prejudice was not only exhibited by the Whites but also the African American men. The people who oppressed the African American women were the black men. Therefore, Janie Mae Crawford is the voice of the various African American women who have the desire to live happy lives and celebrate joyous marriage but gender-partiality and racism turn the celebration into mourning. For example, in the beginning of the novel Janie Mae Crawford emotions are shaken by the demise of her husband (Jody), who committed suicide. According to Hurston, the character of Janie was very essential in showing that women did not have any contribution to the decision making processes. Jody decided to commit suicide after being attacked by a dog with rabies. According to Janie, the husband considered death as the better option compared to suffering from the disease and the associated stigma, and risking the spread of the disease to the family. However, the bottom line was that Janie was not consulted by the late husband despite the fact that the issue deeply concerned her. Therefore, Janie Mae Crawford in the novel is the voice of the many voiceless African American women in the context of marriage. This is because the sudden death Janie’s suicide led to emotional and psychological disarray of the women (Hurston 1.3).
What is more, Lerner (287) supposes, that the character of Janie Mae Crawford was an illustration of the constant judgment and condemnation that the African American women undergone. For example, while she was still mourning her husband, some of the people criticized her clothes style. Hurston (1.6) says ”What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on? – Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in? – Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her? – What dat ole forty year ole ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?” The people saying these words are also African American women characters in the novel. Lerner (287) supposes, that African American women were the greatest impediments of the liberation of females from the authority of men. Accordingly, Janie Mae Crawford was the character that was used to illuminate this problem in the American community of the African Americans.
Jones (126) posits, that the attitude of Janie was found to be shocking by people in the community because her late husband was the mayor. In light of this, she was expected to always be dressed up with her hair tied up. However, this was not the case for the widow because after meeting with the new lover (Tea Cake), she decided to her hair swing and loosen up her mode of dressing. Therefore, the character Janice in the novel is the voice of the many African American women who consider themselves as autonomous member of the society and have the right to lead their lives independently. She was not longer bound by the mandate of complementing the respect granted to her husband. Accordingly, people should respect her freedom of expression, desire for love and liberty of dressing.
Moreover, the transformation of Janie Mae Crawford is the voice of what the African American women value in life. Foster (48) predicates, that although Janie was married to a wealthy man and lived in Eatonville, she was willing to trade all that for true love from a man with low income. Jody was very disrespectful to Janie. For example, he insulted her outrageously in front of the guests because of incorrectly cut pieces of tobacco. In light of this, Janie was willing to forfeit all the money and treasures for happiness. The novel, therefore, is a voice of many women who have been ridiculed for leaving their well-endowed homes and families and resorted to find love in the lowly places. The novel, through Janie, voices the fact that African American women value respect and love over money and lavish lives.
It has been established, that Janie Mae Crawford was the protagonist in the novel despite the rejection she faced from the community due to the desire to express her desire for love and sexual exploitation. Janie is the voice of the African American women who have been oppressed for many years after slavery was ceased in the United States of America. Although seen as mere domestic workers whose place is in the house, Janie is the voice that describes the black woman as a normal human being who deserves to be loved, cherished and respected. Moreover, the novel through the character of Janie Mae Crawford is the voice hat shows women are their own worst enemies. They challenge freedom of expression despite being aware of their desires of doing the same. They maintain hypocritical stands to gain favor from the males. On the other side, they are jealous of the progress made by those who take the risk of rebelling against the norms by condemning and judging them. In addition, it has been found that Janie is the voice of the women who have not been understand or ridicule for leaving wealthy background to seek love and respect. Through the character, it has been found that African American women have different values from what the men thought. They value intrinsic appreciation rather than materialistic rewards accommodated with abuse and lack genuine of love.
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- Foster, Edward Morgan. Aspects of the Novel. England: Penguin Books, 2005.
- Henderson, Mae Gwendolyn. Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman´s Writer´s Literary Tradition. In: GATES, Henry Louis. Reading Black, Reading Feminist. New York: Meridian, 1990. p.116-142.
- Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Collins e-books, 2007.
- Jones, Sharon Lynette. Rereading the Harlem Renaissance: race, class, and gender in the fiction of Jessie Fauset, Nora Zeale Hurston, and Dorothy. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002.
- Lerner, Gerda. Black Women in White America – A Documentary History. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.