Their EYES: Simile Analysis

Zora Neale Hurston’s Florida based 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching Godtakes the reader through a journey of a woman finding herself and obtaining self-fulfillment through many struggles in her path. This 256-page coming-of-age novel has an organized structure of repetitive ending and start, in which the novel starts and finishes with the main character, Janie, and her friend, Pheoby, both sitting on the porch of Janie’s house. Janie’s story runs chronologically and is told from the third person point of view. In the novel, Janie’s grandmother shows her love toward Janie by marrying her off to someone who will provide financial support and social standing. Janie moves in with her new husband, Logan Kellicks, and soon become dissatisfied with her life with him. Logan uses her more as a maid than a wide and does not show affection towards her. She then goes on to marrying two other men, Joe Starks and Tea Cake, but both these marriages end badly.

During the 1930s traditional women were taught to be subservient to men. Women were forced to believe that they needed a man in order to be taken care off, and that they should be happy with their husbands. During this time women were still being discriminated against their gender while applying for jobs. This was worsened for women of color who had the burden of intersectional oppression placed on them. Therefore, given to the struggles of a women of color during this time, they were pressured to get married as soon as possible in order to obtain security. Marriages for these women during this time constrained them to oblige to their husbands demands. Many of them felt unhappy but new that the norm was to stay in their marriages and be subservient to their husband. On the other hand, Janie is an exception to the traditional roles of married black women from this time. She is not a woman of her time.

The novel demonstrates how Janie is not a woman of her time, and breaks the stereotype that women are supposed to be bound to marriage. Janie ran away with her second husband Joe Starks to an all-black town, Eatonville. Joe becomes the mayor of this town and transforms Janie into a model wife. Joe is the most popular, the richest and the most confident man in the town, though Janie soon finds these qualities not good enough to sustain her happiness. His qualities transform him into an obsessive and demanding husband, who does not care about Janie’s voice or opinions. One day Joe publicly humiliates Janie in the town store that he owns in front of everyone they both know, because Janie mistakenly cut a piece of chewing tobacco incorrectly. Joes remarks hurt Janie’s feelings and make her feel “like somebody snatched off part of a woman’s clothes while she wasn’t looking, and the streets were crowded” (Hurston).

This simile metaphor produces the effect of humiliation and embarrassment. When someone’s clothes are taken off, they become vulnerable, that vulnerability takes over their power and their right to choose. The choice can be seen to be taken away by the syntax in which the phrase “and the streets were crowded” comes after stating Janie’s embarrassment, in order to add on to how embarrassed Janie felt and amplify that she did not choose for this situation to occur. This connects to the idea that Joe purposely embarrassed her and purposely made her vulnerable in order to show her the power he has over her, and how their marriage gives him the power and opportunity to do this to her. In a marriage a woman becomes vulnerable when she chooses to show herself to her husband without clothing, in this way a man and a woman create a connection, this connection is thrown away and used by Joe to embarrass her in front of the town.

The embarrassment that is explained and symbolled here is crucial to be understood, because it therefore gives Janie justifiable reason as to why she lashes out at Joe, in front of everyone in the store, in the subsequent sentences after this quote. It makes the readers not see Janie as the stereotypical aggressive woman that needs to be better controlled by her husband, due to the fight in the store. Instead, it allows the readers to view this scene as a pivotal moment in which Janie, for the first time, says to her husband what she truly feels regardless of who is watching, regardless of her subservient position in her marriage, regardless of what society expects of her. Based on this scene, she makes her way toward self-fulfillment and freedom that she sought out to obtain from the start of the novel

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Works Cited:

Hurston, Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1937

The Power of Declaration

Speech is not easy in the face of tragedy. Words can’t capture the depths of grief, but they can circle slowly at its edges and, in their circling, evoke the empty center. In “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin,” published in Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), Claudia Rankine uses short, declarative sentences to evoke and validate Black Americans’ grief in the face of racist violence.

In her poem, Rankine uses declarative sentences to develop an informative or factual tone. The poem begins with a paragraph composed almost entirely of declarative sentences, and this form of syntax repeats throughout the poem. In the first paragraph she writes, “My brothers are notorious. They have not been to prison. They have been imprisoned. The prison is not a place you enter. It is no place. My brothers are notorious” (Rankine 89). Here, Rankine asserts that the criminal justice system and white America at large criminalize Black men and limit their opportunities. She explains that her “brothers” have not physically been to jail, but are still “imprisoned” by their notoriety and their inability to perform simple (non)activities like “waiting” unmolested. Rankine’s syntax breaks the various parts of these assertions into deceptively straightforward statements. Declarative introduce a subject, describe its action, and end with a period, creating the appearance of simplicity and factuality by drawing an apparently uncomplicated connection between a subject and an action. Rankine expresses sentiments of great political and figurative complexity as matters of what simply “is” or “is not.” This gives her statements the feel of common (and unremarkable) knowledge.

Image result for black lives matter protest

Rendering her ideas as common sense both evokes the numbing effects of continual tragedy and challenges the racist strategy of denying the validity of Black people’s experiences and knowledge. The accumulation of declarative sentences on the topics of imprisonment, racism, and the inability to exist creates a contrast between tone and subject. The factual tone combined with the sorrowful subject matter mirrors the detached manner of a person who is experiencing shock, or who has become numb to grief through the proliferation of tragedy. When dehumanization is part of the fabric of a person’s everyday life, pain must, at times, go underground for the sake of survival. Rankine’s detached tone adds to the power of her poem by underscoring the constant nature of racist violence. Furthermore, her tone is an implicit valorization of the knowledge Black people gather through their daily experiences— knowledge that white people devalue in order to maintain our power. By stating these appearances in a factual tone, Rankine asserts their truth.

 

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.

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