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Phrases and Questions

I’ll be fairly brief as I consider this week’s batch of chapters of Their Eyes Were Watching God. This is partially because I’m pushed for time and partially because, while I found much to like in chapters 10 – 16 (how nice to see Janie living and loving!), I haven’t come up with much to say that isn’t beating the same drum I beat last week. So for starters, I’ll just note a few phrases (some downright aphoristic) I’ve found really delightful and in so doing let the book speak for itself:

  • Several people in the book say they’d rather be “shot with tacks” than perform some action they fear they might be expected to perform.
  • Early in their courtship, Tea Cake says to Janie, “Look lak we done run our conversation from grass roots tuh pine trees.”
  • When Pheoby has resolved to speak to Janie about Tea Cake, she knows she can’t just walk straight over to Janie’s house, so she meanders down the street stopping at several porches and “going straight by walking crooked.”
  • Pheoby, assuring Janie that she won’t spread gossip: “Ah jus lak uh chicken. Chicken drink water, but he don’t pee-pee.”
  • Tea Cake’s letter summoning Janie to Jacksonville asks her to “hurry up and come because he was about to turn into pure sugar thinking about her.”
  • After waiting all night for Tea Cake to return from his gambling: “Daylight was creeping around the cracks of the world.”

It strikes me that many of the colloquial phrases I find so appealing are very concrete, even metaphoric insofar as they turn abstract things into observable phenomena. I wonder what, if any, relationship this may have to the notion I’ve expressed previously of a newborn culture following the available templates. Such phrases surely seem to be happy innovations, if they stick at all close to any template.

And now a few questions, things I took note of but haven’t really thought through yet. Maybe something here will spark some conversation (maybe not). I promise these aren’t supposed to be self-consciously coy leading questions that I think there are necessarily good answers to. They’re just things that popped into my head.

  • Is there any comparison to be made between the relationship between Tea Cake and Janie and that of Logan and a Young Janie? That is, the terms of the age gap have been swapped; Janie is now the December of the relationship rather than the May. Are there ways in which age and experience play a role in the ways the relationships work? Is there room for comparison somehow of Janie to Logan Killicks (probably not)?
  • Late in chapter 12, we have a meditation by Janie on marriage and in particular on how black women born in slavery viewed sitting up on a high chair like white women (which Joe forced Janie into). What would marriage have meant to recently freed slaves and to their grandchildren? It’s another white institution, something they had been told they had to do or go to Hell, I suppose. I feel like there must be some nuance here, some mingling of the old traditions with the white traditions, some meaning to it all external to the play-acting of performing the ceremony itself. Would marriage have been a sign of freedom?
  • I wonder what a close comparison of the Widow Tyler’s return to Maitland to that of Janie’s as the book opens would turn up.
  • As Tea Cake and Janie settle down in the muck, their house becomes the center of their community’s activity. Does this set up something of an equivalence between Tea Cake and Joe, vibrant men around whom industry and community culture centered? If so, can we take solace in the distinction that where Joe applied a sort of brute force to accomplish such a centering, it springs up naturally around the easy-going and likable Tea Cake?
  • Are the longer paragraphs that close chapter 16 out of line with the tone of the rest of the book so far? They registered with me as more preachy, had more the feel of the narrator intruding editorially and directly than what we’ve read so far.
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  1. October 21, 2010 at 2:02 am

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