People in Society Experience Variations of Discrimination

Category: Culture
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Whether it is their gender, class, or race, they can overcome obstacles in order to prove that they are independent. In the book Their Eyes Were Watching God, written by Zora Neale Hurston, this topic is evident throughout the entire novel. Growing up herself as an African American, Hurston uses the background of her life to shape that of the main character, Janie. As she is growing into an adult, she experiences relationships with three men- Logan, Jody, and Tea Cake. They each impact her life in a different way. Throughout these relationships she faces several problems aside from Tea Cake. She is dissatisfied by her first two husbands, and it is evident that she struggles with her identity at times. She must overcome oppression in order to become happy. 

Throughout the novel, Janie’s refusal to be victimized is portrayed through her gender, class, and race. Janie refuses to be victimized by her gender, despite the advice from Nanny and the negative comments of Logan and Jodie. Janie is constantly protected by Nanny, even as she is starting to become an adult. This is due to the fact that when Nanny is a slave, she is raped, and then her own daughter, Leafy is raped as well. Nanny makes sure to keep an eye on Janie so that this does not happen to her. Although Nanny is portrayed as being strict with her granddaughter, she is simply looking out for her. She does not want Janie to suffer like she did. In order to grow into a successful woman, Nanny believes that Janie should marry a mature man who is independent and has his own land and money. 

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However, Nanny mentions to Janie “‘Tain’t Logan Killicks Ah wants you to have, baby, it’s protection” (Hurston, 15). She is ensuring Janie that Logan can protect her, especially since Nanny is growing old and feels that Janie will be safer with a husband. However, it holds Janie back from being capable of handling situations on her own. This connects to gender because the setting of the book takes place in the early 1900s. Women in this time period are not treated as equally as men. According to the Striking Women website, “Women remained for the most part excluded from trade unions, and unequal pay was the norm” (Striking Women). 

Women in this era typically stay at home and are domestic servants. They perform tasks such as cleaning, cooking, sewing, and taking care of the children while their husbands go to work during the day. The women who stay at home do not get paid, and those who do have jobs earn much less than men. They are looked at as minorities, and Nanny wants to make sure that her granddaughter does not encounter discrimination. Nanny knows that Janie is tough and independent, which makes her more vulnerable to get caught up into a bad situation. Therefore, Nanny thinks that Logan will keep her from getting into trouble. Although he does nothing poor to Janie, Logan is a man who has a daily routine. There is nothing about him that intrigues Janie, therefore, she is bored with him. Another man that does not fulfill Janie’s needs in life is Jody. He is one who takes her gender for granted. 

For example, he makes her tie her hair up in order to keep men from looking at her. He treats her poorly, and acts as if she is not smart and does not have a voice. She overcomes this by telling Jody “Mah own mind had tuh be squeezed and crowded out tuh make room for yours in me” (86). She faces the reality that she cannot stay with Jody because he is too controlling of her. Even when he is dying, she has little sympathy for him, and tells him how she really felt during their marriage. She is able to move on quickly, and does not grief as much as she should have. Janie experiences a lack of respect from Logan and Jodie, however, it does not ultimately stop her from living the life that she wants. 

Aside from oppression of her gender, Janie also faces struggles from the class that she is in. She and Nanny start off in the middle class, and once Janie marries both Logan and Jody, she becomes wealthier. Logan has a lot of land, and is economically stable. This is part of the reason as to why Nanny sets her granddaughter up with him. Once Janie leaves for Eatonville with Jody, Jody buys land and is able to build a store and post office. They are successful, and Jody becomes the mayor of the town. With this title, he starts to become greedy. A message that Hurston shares with her readers is that sometimes being wealthy does not necessarily equal happiness. Janie is treated poorly by Jody; she cannot show off her long, beautiful hair. He also does not let her make a speech in Eatonville. 

Although Janie has money, she comes to the realization that she is unhappy. She discusses her feelings to Pheoby saying that “Ah’m stone dead from standin’ still and tryin’ tuh smile” (83). She overcomes the issue of social class once she meets Tea Cake. He is from a lower class, and is much more careless than Jody and Logan ever were. Janie does not care about her social class or the money. The only thing she truly cares about is being happy, which Tea Cake provides for her. She feels free and adventurous when she is with him, allowing her to be herself, which is what she wanted all along. She is able to face the adversity of pressure from the class that she is in by moving to the Everglades. 

Janie learns to appreciate her culture in the Everglades, and does not feel distant from the new community she immerses herself in. Although the people there consist of the lower class, they still find a way to have fun by playing music and dancing. They covey to readers that poor people know how to enjoy life, even after a long day of work. Along with rejecting victimization from Janie’s gender and class, she also avoids it with her race. When she is younger, she discovers that she is African American. She notices that “There wasn’t nobody left except a real dark little girl with long hair standing by Eleanor. Ah couldn’t recognize dat dark child as me” (9). At the time Janie has no idea that she is African American. It goes to show that the people and area in which she grows up around are not racist, and her innocence is evident. 

One character who tests Janie in racism is Mrs. Turner. She tells Janie “You got mo’ nerve than me. Ah jus’ couldn’t see mahself married to no black man. It’s too many black folks already. We oughta lighten up de race” (140). It is ironic of Mrs. Turner to say this to Janie because she, herself, is of both Caucasian and African American descent. She tells Janie to leave Tea Cake because she feels that Caucasians are superior to African Americans. The setting of Their Eyes Were Watching God takes place in the south during the early twentieth century. At this time, racism is especially evident in Florida. 

There are still many slaves, therefore, most black people are seen as minorities. Mrs. Turner feels the need to lighten up the race as if it is an obligation of hers due to the fact that both she and Janie have Caucasian features. She pushes for Janie to be with a white man in order to have lighter-skinned children. However, Janie is able to overcome this discrimination. It makes her relationship with Tea Cake stronger because Janie loves him for who he is.

Even though he is darker than she is, it does not bother her. He fulfills her desire of seeing the horizon. She does not care what others think about her, and does not let her race stop her from doing what she wants. Janie is able to overcome the negativities of her gender, class, and race. Her mind is set on having love and happiness in her life. She has to go through several obstacles to get to where she wants to be, such as marrying two men who do not treat her well. 

However, these obstacles teach her lessons, such as not being greedy. Once she marries Tea Cake, she is able to see how much her life has changed. She changes as a person, as well, because she does not give up on her dream of seeing the horizon. Their Eyes Were Watching God is not just about gender, class, and race- it is about Janie finding her true identity. She has to go through relationships, deaths, and disappointments to eventually discover that she would rather have a simple life than to be unhappy with a hectic one. She is a strong woman who is proud of her gender, class, and race.

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People in Society Experience Variations of Discrimination. (2021, Apr 24). Retrieved from