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Their Eyes Were Watching God: Chapter 16 Analysis
Transcript of Their Eyes Were Watching God: Chapter 16 Analysis
Chapter 16 is mainly about the character, Mrs. Turner, a woman who is of both Caucasian and African American descent. She feels that Caucasians are superior to African Americans, not due to any character difference, but simply due to skin color. Mrs. Turner looks up to Janie because she has more Caucasian blood than herself, and pays “homage to Janie’s Caucasian blood as such” (145). She also urges the other to leave Tea Cake, who “’hates dat woman lak poison’” (143), and marry her light skinned brother. While there are no key plot events in this chapter, Tea Cake and Janie get closer, and their relationship grows in depth. It is obvious through their conversations that they love each other, and often take trips together, much different from Janie’s relationships with her former husbands.
This chapter gives much insight into the recurring theme of Caucasian superiority. It provides an interesting perspective, that of Mrs. Turner, who is part African American herself. She detests the fact that she’s considered colored, but takes pride in her Caucasian side. “’Ah got white folks’ features in mah face. Still and all Ah got tuh be lumped in wid all de rest’” (142). Mrs. Turner can be seen as a foil to Janie. While Janie is proud of her looks, she is perfectly comfortable with wearing overalls. Mrs. Turner is quite the opposite, arrogant of her looks simply because they “set her aside from Negroes” (140). Mrs. Turner’s presence and her disapproval of Tea Cake only makes his bond with Janie grow stronger, making them both reaffirm that they wanted to be together.
A symbol present in this chapter is Mrs. Turner, who represents the racism and white superiority of society. Mrs. Turner’s thinking could be seen in other African Americans, such as those in Eatonville, who resented Jody for having so much success when he was an African American man like the rest of them, instead of a Caucasian man, whose success would not be surprising given the color of his skin. Mrs. Turner thinks of herself as Caucasian, and takes “black folk as a personal affront to herself” (142), saying that “’Colored folks don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no business’” (142). Her one-sided friendship with Janie makes both the latter and Tea Cake uncomfortable, yet allows their relationship to strengthen throughout the book.
On page 144, antithesis can be found in the sentence: “Insensate cruelty to those you can whip, and groveling submission to those you can’t.” The sentence has parallel structure but its ideas are completely opposite. Chapter 16 is focused on the the aspects of racism in the story and this sentence shows this. The first part implies that people would be unnecessarily cruel to the people that were under them. This clearly links to Mrs. Turner, who thought herself to be above other negroes because they were “more negroid than herself” and was unjustifiably rude to Tea Cake and others. The second part shows that in those times, when you were below someone, you submitted to them without question. Again this goes back to Mrs. Turner because in her eyes, she is below Janie because Janie has more Caucasian characteristics than herself. Mrs. Turner “felt honored by Janie’s acquaintance and quickly forgave and forgot snubs in order to keep it”. In the greater scheme of things, the blacks felt they were below the whites no matter what and willingly stayed below them. Earlier in the novel characters expressed disbelief at blacks working at the post office.
5. Figurative Language
An example of extended metaphor is found on page 145. It begins, “Once having set up her idols and built altars to them,” and it compares Mrs. Turner’s deference to Caucasian characteristics to that of a pious individual worshiping a god. Her racism is like a religion for her. The way she regards whites as all powerful is like some people see god. This again highlights the racism in this chapter. While it is subtle and unseen like God, it actually is the basis of the setting and time period. Part of the metaphor says: “It was distressing to emerge from her inner temple and find these black desecrators howling with laughter before the door”. This metaphor provides a look into Mrs. Turner’s mind, and allows us to see some of the reasoning or motives behind her behavior. Her experiences with Janie are described as divine and spiritual: “She had a feeling of transmutation, as if she herself had become whiter and with straighter hair”. The extended metaphor illustrates how misguided Mrs. Turner really is, like a religious fanatic, and how no matter how much she tries, she probably won’t be able to change.