As a teenager, Janie’s grandmother married her off as quickly as possible to an old man with his prospects in his sixty acres. When she’s tired of being stifled by him, she runs away with a man she found on the horizon, Jody. When Jody claims Eatonville and becomes the mayor, he takes her voice and covers her hair. Finally, she meets Tea Cake after Jody’s death, and she realizes what it means to be in love.
Alright, I’ll admit it. I was completely bored in the beginning of this book. And I hated the dialect. And I didn’t really have any feelings toward Janie because to me, she seemed very papery.
I can’t tell you exactly where the transition happened or why, but somewhere toward the middle I realized that I actually really enjoyed reading this book.
First of all, after Janie’s initial marriage and into her second one with Jody, I understood the weight of her voice and the toll it took on her to muffle it. And I started to appreciate how Hurston set up the novel and characterized Janie. It was subtle. She wasn’t papery. She was smart.
One of the major topics Hurston explores is the power of language, and she shows this through Janie’s marriages and attitudes. She hardly talks at all while married to Jody, showing her position as less than him, while with Tea Cake, they have real conversations and her dialogue is scattered throughout the end of the novel. She uses the form of the novel, not giving Janie much dialogue to greatly increasing it, to show her transition from less than her husband to equal with him. By doing this, I mistook her silence for two dimensional, but really it means so much more because language and the lack thereof shows the inequality between genders and Janie’s strategies in her marriage.
It is written pretty much completely in dialect, but I quickly got used to it. I also think the dialect definitely adds to the story, making it more real and emphasizing her themes on the importance of language.
Otherwise, I felt like there was probably a lot of stuff in the book that I missed. Plot wise, it picked up when Jody got sick. There is a bit of a twist with Tea Cake that I wasn’t expecting, but I also neglected to read the back and am a cynic, so it probably wouldn’t be surprising to anyone else.
I really did enjoy the book, and I liked how it didn’t seem like a race novel. Sure, there was a subtheme concerning racism and how it can affect anyone, black or white, but it didn’t overtake the novel. The novel is a classic because of its themes on language and equality, not because it’s only directed toward one audience.
I definitely recommend it as an important classic that isn’t that difficult to read.
“She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her.”