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Violence in Hurston’s Seraph on the Suwanee and Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Violence in Hurston’s Seraph on the Suwanee and Their Eyes Were Watching God


Several scenes from Seraph on the Suwanee parallel scenes from Their Eyes Were Watching God. The scene beginning “The gun came up…” on page 183 of Their Eyes Were Watching God and ending “…pried the dead Tea Cake’s teeth from her arm” on page 184 echoes the scene in Seraph on the Suwanee beginning “She flung her hands up…” on page 145 and ending “ ‘…just as fast as you can’” on page 146. The premise for each scene is identical. The prime female character is forced to defend herself from a close male family member who has gone mad and is threatening her life. Even in the face of death, she is primarily concerned with his well-being and becomes the only person to set him free.

The beginnings of both scenes are strikingly similar. In Their Eyes…, “The gun came up unsteadily but quickly and leveled at Janie’s breast.” In Seraph…, upon becoming aware of the axe in Earl’s hand, Arvay “flung her hands up to her breast.” Right away, the focus of violence is drawn to the female form, symbolized by the breast. However, the first thought to cross Janie’s mind with a gun to her chest is “even in [Tea Cake’s] delirium he took good aim.” She finds praise for him no matter what he does. Even while he is threatening her life, she automatically compliments him, then excuses his actions—“Maybe he would point to scare her, that was all.” It is obvious that the women are in positions where they must escape in order to survive. The phrase “for dear life” appears in Seraph as “fear for her life” appears in Their Eyes. Arvay must turn the lights off “so that she could not be so easily seen and make her escape” while “instinctively Janie’s hand flew behind her on the ri...


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...ive if Tea Cake were to kill Janie and it is the same with Earl and Arvay. Both men must be stopped, and death, not the women’s adoration or forgiveness, becomes the only way.

Hurston’s view of a very male-centered, almost male-worshipping society, is highly reflected in Janie’s and Arvay’s relationships with and attitudes towards Tea Cake and Earl. Everything the women do seems to be for the men and they push their own needs completely aside. The men’s utter disregard and total evil and violence towards the women starkly contrast the women’s undying devotion and love for the men. Up to the point of being killed by the men, the women stand strong by them, in support of them, and in order to help them, when it is exactly the opposite of what the men are doing for the women. The repetition of the violence scene in Their Eyes and Seraph reinforces Hurston’s view.



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