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Their Eyes Were Watching God Seminar

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Bree Dean

on 27 January 2015

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Transcript of Their Eyes Were Watching God Seminar

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Examine the way that Hurston develops the exposition of the novel. How does she establish the setting of the book? How are the characters of Janie Turner and Tea Cake introduced? Whose voices do you hear first?

Based on the first chapter, what do you think some of the conflicts in the novel are going to be? What do you think the themes might be? Cite evidence from the text to support your predictions.

Describe the town's attitude towards Janie. Describe her attitude towards the town. How does the communal dialogue help establish the town as a character?

On page 7, Janie tells Pheoby, "Unless you see de fur, a mink skin ain't no different from a coon hide." Based on context clues, what do you think this saying means?

Hurston frequently uses personification in her descriptions of the natural world. Find one example of personification from the first chapter.

Bree Dean, Neave Flint, Kacee Ginsbach, and Monique Martinez

States customs that aren’t around anymore/ have changed
The treatment of African American people/ segregation
“Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out” (pg. 14).
Kids at school make fun of Janie for living with a white family
The role of women
“Ah’m old now. Ah can’t be always guidin’ yo’ feet from harm and danger. Ah wants to see you married right away” (pg. 13).
All the women gossiping: responsible for supper for their husbands
Standard for how Janie should dress: in a dress with her hair up

Our first impressions of Janie and Tea Cake are through the gossip-hungry eyes of Janie’s neighbors
“What she doin’ coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?... Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?--What dat forty year ole’ ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?--Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid?... Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs…” (pg. 2).
This young boy is Tea Cake
All they can do is criticize Janie
Why would the author introduce them in this way?

•It’s gonna be all about Janie’s life
Pheoby wants to hear about Janie’s time away from the town and Janie responds, “Ah know exactly what Ah got to tell yuh, but it’s hard to know where to start at” (pg. 8). Then she starts with her birth…

•Conflicts and Themes
We already know she has had at least two husbands: Tea Cake and the rich guy who supposedly died and left her a lot of money
Why people marry, the results, looooooooove, or not
Book starts with people judging Janie and her story starts with the children at school judging her

Attitude to Janie
She is just the topic of gossip
“They know mo’ ‘bout yuh than you do yo’ self. an envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done ‘heard’ ‘bout you just what they hope done happened” (pg. 5).
Attitude of Janie to town
She does not seem to enjoy it very much/ she escaped and now is back
“Yeah, Phoeby, Tea Cake gone. And dat’s de only reason you see me back here--cause Ah ain’t got nothing to make me happy no more where Ah was at” (pg. 7).
Communal dialogue
The setting

At this point in the story, Phoeby is visiting with Janie and the two are discussing why Janie came back from the Everglades. Janie returned and left her husband Tea Cake because there was nothing there that could make her happy.

•“Unless you see de fur, a mink skin ain’t no different from a coon hide.” (pg.7)

In context with the story, Janie may be saying something along the lines of “in order to truly see something you have to understand it,” or “information is useless if you don’t know what it is they’re saying.” Which can be somewhat confirmed with the following quote:

•“... So ‘tain’t no use in me telling you somethin’ unless Ah give you de understandin’ to go ‘long wid it.” (pg. 7)

What do you think the saying means?

Many of the examples of personification in the book are applied to a porch:
“The porch couldn’t talk for looking.” (pg.2)
“[Phoeby] left the porch pelting her back with unasked questions.” (pg.4)

In my opinion, the use of personification creates this kind of “extra character” with the ability to convey emotion within the story: this allows for the book to be rather imaginative and fun.

Are there any other examples of personification?

Identify the simile that is used to describe the way that Janie views her life. Explain how this description might foreshadow Janie's future.

How Janie views her life has the potential to foreshadow her future during this story:
“Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.” (pg.8)

When it comes to trees one of two things is destined to happen: either it will grow and mature, or it will be cut down. It is up to speculation as to what may ultimately happen by the end of this story.

What do you think that meaning of this simile is? Is there another simile that pertains to Janie’s life?

In this chapter, what do you find out about Janie's parents and early childhood?

•Janie’s mother was not present in her life, neither was her father.
“‘Ah ain’t never seen mah papa. And Ah didn’t know ‘im if Ah did. Mah mama neither. She was gone from round dere long before Ah wuz big enough tuh know.’” (8)

•She was raised by her grandmother in the backyard of the white people her grandmother worked for.
“‘Mah grandma raised me. Mah grandma and de white folks she worked wid. She had a house out in de back-yard and dat’s where Ah wuz born. They was quality white folks up dere in West Florida. Named Washburn.’” (8)

•Janie did not even know that she was colored until she was six.
“‘Ah was wid dem white chillun so much till Ah didn’t know Ah wuzn’t white till Ah was round six years old.’” (8)

•Janie was bullied because she lived in the Washburns’ backyard. It eventually turned into the other children spreading rumors about her father.
“‘Us lived dere havin’ fun till de chillun at school got to teasin’ me ‘bout livin’ in de white folks’ back-yard.’” (9)
‘’Den they’d tell me not to be takin’ on over mah looks ‘cause they mama told ‘em ‘bout de hound dawgs huntin’ mah papa all night long…for whut he done tuh mah mama… Dey didn’t tell about how he wuz seen tryin’ tuh git in touch wid mah mama later on so he could marry her.’” (9)

How do you think finding out she is colored affects Janie’s perspective?
Do you think being raised with white people will have an effect on how she treats and is treated by colored people?

What does watching the blossoming pear make Janie realize? What does she do in response to this "awakening"? Why does her action upset her grandmother?

•Janie is relaxing under a blossoming pear tree when she sees a bee pollinate a blossom.

“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 ecstatic 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.” (10-11)

•Janie takes this to symbolize a marriage. She yearns to be a blossom and be kissed by bees. ((Basically: she gets horny))

“Oh to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen… and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her.” (11)

•Coming down the road is a boy named Johnny Taylor. He seems to suit Janie enough to be her bee. They kiss, and Nanny sees them.

“Through pollinated air she saw a glorious being coming up the road… Johnny Taylor… In the last stages of Nanny’s sleep, she dreamed of voices… That brought her wide awake. She bolted right up and peered out of the window and saw Johnny Taylor lacerating her Janie with a kiss.” (11)

•Nanny is saddened by seeing Janie kiss Johnny Taylor. She fears that Janie will become like her mother and get pregnant then start sleeping around.

he old woman;s voice was so lacking in command and reproof, so full of crumbling dissolution…” (12)
“‘So you don’t want to marry off decent like, do yuh? ...You wants to make me suck de same sorrow yo’ mama did, eh? Mah ole head ain’t gray enough.’” (13)

Why does Janie suddenly become so enamored with the idea of being like a tree?

What does the quote “she wanted to struggle with the world but it seemed to elude her” mean?

Who does Nanny want Janie to marry? Why does she think this will be a good match? Why doesn't Janie agree?

•Nanny wants Janie to marry the much older Logan Killicks, who is presumably colored. He is wealthy, and will provide Janie with protection for when she herself is gone.
“‘ ‘Tain’t Logan Killicks Ah wants you to have, baby, it’s protection… One mornin’ soon, now, de angel wid de sword is gointuh stop by here... Mah daily prayer now is tuh let dese golden moments rolls on a few days longer till Ah see you safe in life.’” (1-15

•Janie resents this, as he would destroy her dream of the pear tree, with bees kissing its blossoms.
“The vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating her pear tree, but Janie didn’t know how to tell Nanny that.” (13)

What is it that Nanny wants Janie to have protection from?

Janie's grandmother tells her that she wanted her to "pick from a higher bush and a sweeter berry." What specific dream did Janie's grandmother have for her granddaughter? When contrasted with Janie's vision of her life as a tree, what is ironic about her grandmother's words?

•“Ah wanted yuh to school out and pick from a higher bush and a sweeter berry,” (page 13).

•Nanny wants Janie to marry someone of a higher social status that way she can die knowing her granddaughter will be secure financially.
“‘Taint Logan Killicks Ah wants you to have, baby, it’s protection,” (page 14).

•“You know, honey, us colored folks is branches without roots and that makes things come round in queer ways,” (page 15).
Janie sees a tree as a way for her to grow into her own person. Nanny thinks that Janie needs roots to her branches which is why she needs to find a secure lot in life.

What do you think is ironic about what Nanny wants for Janie? Specifically, how are the words ironic?

Describe Marse Robert's interaction with Nanny. What does the fact that his wife has to wait until her husband has left before she goes to see Nanny suggest about their relationship?

•Marse Roberts is Nanny’s owner. He ends up raping her and Nanny gives birth to a gray eyed and blonde haired daughter.

•The wait for the wife to go visit Nanny suggests that she has a rocky relationship with her husband.
She is very aggressive with Nanny which could be a reflection of the aggression that Marse Roberts shows towards his wife.
“Ah’ll have you whipped till de blood run down to yo’ heels,” (page 17).

•She also probably wanted to see the baby since a new baby could be sold to another slave owner.
“Whut’s yo baby doin’ wid gray eyes and yaller hair?” (page 17).

What name did Nanny give her daughter? What life did Nanny want for her daughter? What ended up happening to her?

•“So Ah wrapped Leafy up in moss and fixed her good in a tree and picked mah way on down to de landin’,” (page 18).

•Nanny wanted Leafy to become a school teacher.
“Ah was ‘spectin’ to make a school teacher outa her,” (page 18).

•Instead of becoming a teacher, she was raped by her own teacher.
"But one day she didn't come home at de usual time and Ah waited and waited, but she never come all dat night. Ah took a lantern and went round askin' everybody but nobody ain't seen her. De next mornin' she come crawlin' in on her hands and knees. A sight to see. Dat school teacher had done hid her in de woods all night long, and he had done raped mah baby and run on off just before day,” (page 18).

•After Leafy gave birth to Janie, she started drinking away her life and eventually disappeared.
“And after you was born she took to drinkin' likker and stayin' out nights. Couldn't git her to stay here and nowhere else. Lawd knows where she is right now,” (pages 18-19).

Could the name “Leafy” have something to do with the tree metaphor used by Janie and Nanny?

Is there a correlation between the profession
Nanny wanted Leafy to be and the fact that she was raped by someone of that profession?

Hurston reveals the events of chapter 2 primarily through the use of dialogue. How does this choice impact the reader's experience?

•What are your thoughts?
•Do you prefer being told details through dialogue or through a narrator? Why?

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