In Their Eyes Were Watching God Janie goes through several relationships before "[s]he pulled in her horizon like a great fish net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder" (p. 184). In other words, not all the experiences that helped her to gain control of her life were positive ones. These experiences can be put into one of four relationships: Nanny, Logan Killicks, Jody Starks, and Tea Cake.
No doubt that Nanny loved Janie a great deal, and naturally she wanted her granddaughter to have security beyond an old woman who would inevitably die. She also wanted more opportunities for Janie than she'd had as she grew up a slave. As she explains to Janie, "[a]nd Janie, maybe it wasn't much, but Ah done de best Ah kin by you. Ah raked and scraped and bought dis lil piece uh land so you wouldn't have to stay in de white folks' yard and tuck yo' head befo' other chillun at school" (p. 19).
Nanny's intentions are only to make Janie's life better than hers was, but in an ironic twist she is the one who puts the shackles on Janie in the first place by marrying her off to the person, not of Janie's choice, but of her own. To give Janie a better life than a slave, Nanny would have done better to not be as controlling. Unfortunately, Janie seems only to remember this and not Nanny's love.
Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon-for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you-and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter's neck tight enough to choke her. She hated that old woman who had twisted her so in the name of lov...
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...her by Hurston's wanting to tell it in omniscient third person, or because Hurston is, in fact, trying to qualify the reader's total optimism about Janie's life. Was Janie unable to achieve her voice as Robert Stepto contends (see Forward, xi)? Or did we the readers not hear Janie defend herself because knowing how to use your voice includes knowing when not to as Alice Walker believes? Or is Mary Helen Washington the one who hits the nil on the head when she writes, "I think that silence reflects Hurston's discomfort with the model of the male hero who asserts himself through his powerful voice." Depending on the reader's interpretation of the book, it could be any of these things. But the fact remains that it can be interpreted all three ways (and possibly more) and that alone is enough for the reader to question whether or not the novel is purely optimistic.
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