Body and Power in Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurson’s masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God is the first literary work that fully demonstrates a black woman’s process of “Awakening” and serves as a milestone of female imagery creation in black literature. This novel sucessfully depicts a new woman image that tries to break from white-dominated and male-dominated society and pursue her own identity and freedom. This essay focuses on the discription about the main character’s physical appearance, or her body, and tries to reveal a new perspective on understanding this novel.
Body, especially female body, has long been deciphered into a mark, a signifier that equivalents to power. Women exchange their bodies for material gains and men consider women bodies as possessions and embediment of power. The heroine in Zora’s book, experienced a constant resistence against male power’s materialization of her body. In the beginning of the novel, Zora wrote women’s gossip about the main character, Jenie Crawford. They criticized Janie’s dress—“Can’t she find no dress on put on?-Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?”) They talked about Janie’s haircut because it was considered undignified for a woman of Janie’s age to wear her hair down. Her refusal to bow down was a clear despise towards a social norm imposed by men.
Her marriage with the three men was in fact a struggle against her husbands’ enslavement of her, representated by their trying to control her body.
... to a rush, which goes away, after being scratched. Unlike women, men can easily dissociate mentally from their genitals, which allows them ... better suited for men or for women who should have been born as men (feminists). The fact that men and women communicate differently simply reflects ... being touched, for example. We can say that their whole bodies act as one big sexual organ.On the other hand ...
Her first marriage was arranged by her grandmother, who wanted to settle Janie in a secured position. Her husband Logan Killicks, owner of sixty acres of farm, married Janie for her beauty. Their marriage was like a trade—body for security and wealth. This loveless marriage striffled Janie and made her elopement with Jody Starks, who Janie thought would bring love into their marriage.
Jody Starks turned out to be far from satisfactory. He didn’t allow Janie to expose her hair in the public and became real mad when Amos Hicks tried to touch her hair. Jody viewed Janie as his private possessions and therefore felt insulted when other men tried to get close to Janie. He even ordered Janie to braid her hair. The braid was constantly described in phallic terms and functions as a symbol of a typically masculine power and potency. With year went by, Janie remained young and beautiful while Jody “wasn’t so young as he used to be”. This sharp contrast in body appearance made Jody sad and angry. He became more suspicious about Janie’s dealing with other men, which forced a verbal retaliation out of Janie just before his death. Her somewhat cruel treatment at the dying Jody measured the depth of Jody’s suppression of her inner life.
Janie’s third marriage proved successful. Tea Cake, her third husband, functioned as the catalyst that helpd drive Janie toward her freedom. He never put a limitation on the clothes Janie should wear. He helped to develop Janie’s physical strenthen by teaching her how to fish, gamble and shoot. Instead of strifling her personality, he encouraged it and helped her to better understand herself by introducing new experiences and skills. His action proved him to be the soul-mate for Janie.
Franch feminist Helene Cixous once said female writers should write about their bodies, which may become a effective tool against phallus-centerism. Zora here, sets a good example.