Sunday, November 25, 2007

Their Eyes Were Watching God 11/26

Throughout this section, I felt Hurston tackles relationships and the emotional turmoil that comes with them, as a universal theme for woman of all races. Yet, clearly uses the character of Janie, a middle class African American woman who is looking for her place in society, as a reference to the class consciousness that was prevalent among ‘elite’ African Americans of the time.

Much like Langston Hughes (whom she references in her article “Characteristics of Negro Expression”) Hurston includes references to the everyday people, not just with dialect, but with the stories of the townspeople who sit on the store porch, and later on, with references to jooks, gambling, and life in the Everglades. As an immovably stern force, Jody reminds Janie that she should not be out among just anyone, and should not carry on in the town’s conversations. However, upon his death, Jody is somewhat sympatric character, as Janie describes him as a misunderstood man who had only sought to make something of himself, Perhaps a cautionary tale against separating yourself from the plight of your race, or being over ambitious? (86-87)

After which Janie is only able to enjoy life when she stops worrying about what others think and focuses instead on what makes sense for her. Besides dating out of her class, as the townspeople and even the boy who helps with the store reminds her, Janie also goes against the accepted behavior for widows (110-111.) She’s left wondering if she will be left as the widow Tyler, high and dry, with no money and no husband. However, in the end she does leave with Tea cake, and although it seems they have a bumpy start, she finds herself in the Everglades, among yet another class of people, working as a laborer, seemingly happy, although their seems much more to learn about Tea cake.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Their Eyes were Watching God 11/19

I was honestly frustrated when I began reading Their Eyes Were Watching God. We begin right in the middle of things, with out any real explanation of characters or events. What’s more, there is apparently some sort of scandal involving the women everyone’s talking about and some man referred to as Tea Cake, and, it seems the wealthy husband of this woman recently died? If all that wasn’t enough to leave you wondering, the dialogue adds another element of confusion. Although after a few pages of reading aloud, having to actually say what I saw written gave me a pretty good idea of what the ‘dialect heavy’ words were supposed to be.

With that in mind, I tried to center in on a theme, but I got the impression I wouldn’t really understand what Hurston was trying to say, until I actually finish the book, so I settled for looking for connections to texts we’ve read. I was reminded of Johnston’s narrator in Autobiography when Janie recounts the story of how she first learned she was not white, but ‘colored’ (9.) While it was sort of a cute story, it also gave the impression that Janie’s parents were light skinned, or that she was the product of a bi-racial relationship. Additionally, we know that Janie grew up around the white family her grandmother worked for. As the chapter progresses we learn Janie’s grandmother has a very definite idea of what it means to be respectable, and wants to protect her granddaughter from the abuse her daughter suffered, by insuring that Janie marries young (15-20.)

However, the relationship between Janie and her first husband, Mr. Killicks, seems fraught with class tension, although not in an economic sense. Killicks seems to be rather wealthy, with sixty acres of land, yet he is a farmer, and more than once alludes that Janie is so spoiled being not used to hard work, that she acts as if she were white (30.) Similarly, her relationship with Joe seems to begin because he appreciates ‘gender divisions of labor’ and wants to provide for Janie in the manor he feels a woman should be provided for (29.) It feels as if these relationship are a reference to passing, although Janie, nor the men in her life, actually try to pass for white, which reminds me of the way the more ‘elite’ characters in Passing (even those who do not pass) are more aware of the social standing they hold in their small community, than the larger plight of the working class African American.

I think this theme of class/social distinction is particularly evident when Joe becomes the mayor of the experimental solely African American town. The other members of the town, especially the men begin to feel that they are being ordered around by him, yet they feel indebted to the money and infrastructure he has brought to the town (47.) Likewise, it seems even Janie resents the fact that she is being turned into to some sort of trophy wife, once again unable to find the love and understanding she was looking for. It even makes me wonder if Joe sought a relationship with Janie because she was light skinned, and he equated this with the chance to be the ‘big voice’ in a community of other African Americans (46.) Thus, although I’m not sure I have an accurate interpretation of the comment by Hicks on page 39, I certainly think it alludes to the theme of the book, and maybe what ultimately happens to Joe, Janie, and the town.
“Us Colored Focous is to envious of one ‘nother. Dat how come us don’t git no further than us do. Us talks about the white man keep’in us down! Shucks! He don’t have tuh. Us keeps our own selves down.”

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hughe's America 11/12

The Hughes poem I found most interesting this week was “America.” Although I don’t know how to characterize it stylistically, I felt it had a very obvious uplift message. Similar to the Brownie’s Book his mention of Crispus Attucks, Jimmy Jones, and Sojourner Truth reference an African American history many people, especially children, probably did not know. What’s more, the poems positive tone elaborates on the values of freedom, equality, and democracy, not in a sort of ironic light as we have seen in authors like McKay, but as something that is being accomplished. Giving the reader the impression that they have a vested interested in the cultivation of these values, just as Sojourner Truth and Crispus Attucks had. Their hopes and dreams (equality, freedom, etc. are in fact the hopes of America.
Who am I?
You know me,
Dream of my dreams,
I am America.
I am America seeking the stars. (53)

Most importantly, I thought it was interesting that Hughes chosen to reference an African American child and a Jewish child. Historically speaking, I know Jewish people have long been persecuted, and probably faced a great deal of prejudice as immigrants to America. It seems obvious that Hughes was acknowledging this and comparing it to the racism facing black Americans.
Out of yesterday
The Chains of slavery;
Out of yesterday,
The ghetto’s of Europe;
However, his comparison also makes a clear point that the Jewish child is white, yet knows something of the pain the black child has to face, as they both struggle for a better life and find obstacles in the present condition of America. He describes these racially and ethnically different children as brothers, both being a needed part of America.

I could not think of any text we had read so far that so clearly emphasized in the indifference of race in the human experience, although Johnston’s ‘Red’ character seems to have no personal indifference to the narrator’s race, and the boys in Cullen’s Tableau seem to disregard race in the interest of friendship. A more contemporary example for me was the Norman Rockwell, “Treat other’s as you want to be treated” painting, which also references that idea that America is diverse, and I think, speaks of unity in the interest that what it means to be American is to be searching for equality. I am also reminded of the Dave Matthews “I am an American” PSA that came out after September 11th.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Cullen's Search for Answers 11/5

I found many of the Cullen poems difficult to understand. As we mentioned in class, he has a very traditional style, and includes words and references you really have to stop and think about. I thought this was very much the case with “Heritage.” Although I know it is something about what Africa means to him, or maybe what he thinks it was like in the past, I understand very little of what he is describing, with the exception of the last section dealing with his feelings on God.

It seems clear that Cullen is describing the plight of African Americans and wondering why the God he prays to lets these things happen, or at the least, doesn’t really seem to care.
Wishing he I served were black
Thinking then he would not lack
Precedent of pain to guide it,…
Not surprisingly, many of Cullen other poems seem like a variation on this theme, including “Mood,” “Pagan Prayer” and “colors”, which deal specifically with his anger or confusion, as to why the God does not intervene in his black followers time of need. Similarly, in “The Litany of the Dark People” Cullen seems to be referring to African religions with the same questions when he describes the racism and violence back people face, comparable to being crucified.
Yet no assaults the old gods make
Upon our agony

I wish I could come up with some profound understanding or literary reference to sum up my point. Truthfully however, I rarely read anything outside of non fiction and, as I’m an atheist, I don’t have any religious background to draw from. Still, I think it’s pretty obvious writing was therapeutic for Cullen. No doubt he was explaining his own frustrations and searching for a way to understand why black people were simingly being forced to endure so much. In this way, although I admittedly understand very little of what Cullen specifically wrote, I find his poems to be asking the universal ‘why are we here?’ question.