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Free Study Guide-Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston-Free
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Chapters 2 - 4

Summary

Janie sees her life as a tree, with "dawn and doom in the branches." She tells how she never knew her mother and father and was raised by her grandmother, Nanny, who worked for white folks in West Florida. Janie played with the white children, not knowing she was different from them. It was not until a man took a picture of all the children together that Janie realized that she was the dark one, different than the white children. This difference became more clear when she started school and the children teased her about living in the white people's backyard. They also joked about Janie dressing in their cast-off clothes and wearing ribbons in her hair. They talked about her father's flight from the sheriff, even though they did not know the whole story. Nanny, seeing what was happening, decided that she and Janie needed a place of their own. Her white employer helped Nanny set up a house on a piece of land. Janie believes that her conscious life begins at the gate to Nanny's house.

When she was about sixteen, Janie spent one spring afternoon under the blossoming pear tree in Nanny's yard, staring up into the branches. The blooms, the new leaves, and the song of the virgin-like spring came to life all around her. As she watched the bees bury their busy heads in the blossoms, she felt the tree shiver and froth in delight, as if in sexual ecstasy. Janie herself felt a sweet, remorseless pain, which left her languid. As she rose to go, she wondered when and where she might find such ecstasy herself. Arriving at home, she finds Nanny asleep and goes back outside. Johnny Taylor is coming up the road. When Nanny wakes, she sees Janie and Johnny Taylor out by the gate, kissing. She calls Janie inside.


Nanny, old and weary, begins to explain to Janie that she is a woman now, a shocking thought for the young girl. Nanny insists that it is time for Janie to marry and does not want her wasting her time with the likes of Johnny Taylor. Janie, however, has no desire to marry at age sixteen. She feels that Nanny's evaluation of Johnny Taylor makes her kissing him nothing but trash. Nanny means no harm. She is tired and worried about Janie's future security. She tells her granddaughter that Logan Killicks has been asking after her. Janie is horrified, for he is an old man. He bears little relation to the pear tree. When Nanny insists that Logan is a good man, Janie cannot hide her displeasure. Nanny, angry at the girl's attitude, slaps Janie. When she sees Janie's tears, she brushes her hair from her face and feels sorry.

Nanny takes Janie on her lap and tries to explain the basics of life to her. She says that the white man is the ruler of everything, and he hands his burdens to the black man. In turn, the black man hands it to his women. As a result, black women are the mules of the world. Nanny has been praying that it would be different for her granddaughter. She knows that she is old and wants to see Janie safe in life. She believes that Logan Killicks will make a good husband, for he will protect Janie.

Nanny was raised in slavery, "a work-ox and a brood-sow." Her daughter, Janie's mother, was the result of abuse at the hand of her white master. When he left to fight in the Civil War, his wife perceived the baby's whiteness and threatened to whip Nanny near to death. Nanny, with her week-old baby, escaped to a nearby swamp and hid until the day freedom was declared. After the war, Nanny did not marry, but came to west Florida with a white family, who helped her raise her daughter. Unfortunately, the daughter was raped by the schoolteacher and became pregnant. After Janie was born, her mother took to drinking and running around, finally leaving home forever. Nanny can only hope her daughter is at peace somewhere.

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