Retrospectively, sense of time vis-a-vis this text
Retrospectively, Janie Crawford sought fulfillment through other individuals, thus losing herself in the midst of doing so through sexual oppression and the egregious damage inflicted upon her at such a tender age. If we probe deep into the machinations of our novel, the manifestation of the foundation of a slave narrative turns palpable and becomes more open to our interpretation and scrutiny. The immensely apparent parallels lie within the context of the slave narrative dovetailed with conventional techniques put forth in literature in efforts to highlight the racial and sex-based oppression of the post civil war America.
Slave narrative is compartmentalized in 4 primary stages. The loss of innocence, typically objectified through the realization of one’s position in slavery, this is also exemplifies through the psychological deviation from sweet innocence to precocious cynicism. The second stage involves the dehumanizations of persona through countless means of societal priming, therefore leading the character to self — dependency. The third stage becomes present when the persona undergoes a loss of will, the pitiful demise of the base of their actions and strength.
The fourth stage is the event where freedom and maturity are obtained. At the beginning of the novel, Janie Mae Crawford Killicks Starks is etched into our perception of the disparaged and oppressed black woman. Oddly enough our sense of time vis-a-vis this text becomes skewed as we confront the issue of internal ill treatment not just from male figures but from females as well.
Janie’s return to her hometown of West Florida allows for the sizable flashback to her childhood and the tumultuous journey she underwent through life. “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world… Ad been prayin’ duh it tuh be different wid you” From this Hurston exploration of the mule motif that is rampant throughout many of her works of literature allows us to gain a comprehensive outlook of the life Janie would be leading. In both senses she becomes a tool for labor and a symbol of ridicule. Women prior to this time period had become subservient to me, regardless of race, positioning them lower than both black and white woman. Through the lens of Janie, there is a more than noticeable division between a character of her reputation and the un-amicable congregation of black individuals she re-introduces herself to. Hurston exemplifies the claim made earlier that Black women indeed are the mule of the world and the pragmatic notion of triple oppression.
The crowd ridicules Janie yes but what seems more peculiar is the instances in which Janie isn’t directly mentioned “What he done wid all her money?—Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs” she is still the subject of abuse, not her significant others. The journey of psychological development, that allows this text type to be referred to as bildungsroman begins from Janie’s childhood. Hurston’s precision in capturing the convoluted psyche of Janie fuels her contribution to the progression of post slavery female empowerment.
Henry Louis Gates stated in his book The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism “For Hurston is now a cardinal figure in the Afro American cannon, and the canon of Afro American fiction” (Gates, 180). Hurston has mentally molded in her grandmother’s seemingly wise yet dispirited shadow becomes a driving force for Hurston’s characterization of Janie. Her malleability is greatly attributed to the duality of scars of slavery but her general domestic relationship with her grandmother. Hurston use of naturally occurring elements discreetly as motifs becomes her way of communicating her critique of the image of the black woman, even if it means starting when she isn’t a woman just yet. Hurston states “her conscious life had commenced at Nanny’s gate.” The awakening of the black female can be seen both in a psychological or sexual comportment.
Her subtle placement of the gate works perfectly at foreshadowing her loss of innocence. As aforementioned being one of the key conventions of the slave narrative and the concept of loss of innocence plays its role in the formation of a bildungsroman text. The gate delineates the fine line between the naiveté of any young girl and the world that awaits her beyond her domain and spatially the gate depicts the proximity in relation to her and change into womanhood.
The pear tree highlights the sexual bloom that had long awaited Janie. Hurston states “She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree” Hurston characterizes Janie as one who seeks liberation in the essence of life, thus exuding one of the characteristics of bildungsroman, a naive persona’s premature search for existential validation. “From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom”. By accompanying the pear tree motif, Hurston now crescendoes into a more explicit exploration of Janie’s sexuality and transition into womanhood. Her euphemistic discussion of sexuality through nature allows her to tackle the societal boundaries that have been set for women specifically black women.
Hurston utilizes “snowy virginity” in a juxtaposed fashion to convey the aforementioned transition. In a holistic sense, Hurston’s characterization of Janie with reference to this motif and this particular moment allows a sagacious view into her persona’s soul, an introspective view of Janie allows us to better digest the image of the black woman and the oppression she faces. As stated by Zahra Mahdian Fard and Bahman Zarrinjooee in their report A quest for identity in Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God “She portrays characters who try to recognize themselves based on their own inner desires and thoughts”(Fard & Zarrinjooee, 2014).