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The Mistreatment of Women in the Works of Zora Neale Hurston
Society is suffering from a number of serious social problems related to women, and to the interaction between the two sexes. Male domination and patriarchy have been under challenge by feminists and the women's movement. The economic, social and political subjection of women around the world, the violence brought against women and their confinement has been brought to the forefront in recent years.
Zora Neale Hurston's stories speak out against the uncivil and unjust treatment of women especially in their marriages. Hurston's stories reveal the disturbing situation for women about mistreatment abuse in the 1930s, when speaking out was unheard of. This was the time period for the setting of Hurston's stories, and her stories reflect violence against women that occurred during that era.
"Zora Neale Hurston's works are brilliant glimpses into the mind of a woman who lived life for what it was, who wanted nothing more then to have"...a busy life, a just mind and timely death." "She lived as she wrote, to the fullest, she wasn't just a writer, but also an anthropologist who brought to the light the folklore, and culture of nations that before there had been little study of. She brought new, exciting views of the world through her poetic words, and is a shining example of what it is to be a woman. Intelligent, driven, and confidant" (Walker 8).
At only thirteen years old Hurston was thrown out of her father's house because her stepmother didn't approve of her or her siblings. At an early age Huston knew about struggling and making a way for herself (Ford 7-9). In Zora Neale Hurston's autobiography she said, "There is something about poverty that smells like death. Dead dreams dropping off the heart like leaves in a dry season and rotting around the feet, impulses smothered too long in the fetid air of underground caves. The soul lived in a sickly air. People can be slave ships in shoes (Hurston 37).
Hurston was mistreated as a child, and in her story "Drenched in Light" it reveals some of her background of child abandonment. She also focused on women's rights and fights in marriages.
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The circumstances of any person's life will eventually decide the outcome. Negative condition can be bearable enough that there will not be a thorough change in one's life, at worse situations can have different affects. Sometimes a person is forced to make a change in the way they live their life in order to make it tolerable.
In "Sweat," Delia he protagonist who was constantly badgered by her husband survives years of his cruel treatment in a community that does nothing to help her. "Well, you better quit gittin `me riled up, else they'll be totin' you out sooner than you expect, Ah'm so tired of you Ah don't know whut to do" (75). Women, at that time, were expected to do domestic work and be obedient, loyal wives while the husband could do what he pleased. "You quit grindin dirt into these clothes! How can Ah git through by Satday if Ah don't start on Sunday"(74)? Delia's attitude toward her bad marriage changes because of her lack of endurance for her life. The fire behind her eyes could no longer be restricted by Sykes mistreatment and unfaithfulness.
In the beginning of the story I notice a woman doing the domestic work, not only for herself, but the entire community. Because she is a black woman, her line of work entails doing the laundry for the white people. In this era there were relatively no job opportunities for women, especially if they were black. Delia must work everyday for what is obviously very little money just to be able to buy food and provide a roof over her head. Sykes who is unsympathetic to her needs refuses to work, leaving Delia with the financial responsibilities. When he tries to instigate a fight with Delia she says, "Ah been married to you for fifteen years and Ah been takin in washin for fifteen years. Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, pray and sweat"(75)! Delia has been pushed for an unfulfilling life of never-ending work and abuse. She finally speaks against Sykes, but sadly enough most women never did.
Men who batter women have never learned how to cope successfully with angry feelings. Life is full of frustration, but the abusive male does not have the communication skills necessary for resolving the conflict passively.
"Hurricane" the excerpt from Their Eyes Were Watching God" is the story of Janie the protagonist and heroin of the story who goes through trials and tribulation in all circumstances. This passage, which opens Their Eyes Were Watching God, establishes the novels unusual perspective on gender difference. The feminist part of the novel is associated with the idea that men and women are absolutely equal. The idea that men and women need certain things from each other recurs many times throughout the novel, as Janie searches for the man who can complement her and give her those things that she doesn't have. "Ships at a distance have everyman's wish on board for some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly"(Hurston 1).
Zora named the particular short story "Hurricane", because it was the most significant part of the story. When all things came into perspective and everyone had to watch the maker in action. While all others had fled Janie and her husband stayed around only because Tea Cake thought he was right about his decision and that no storm was going to run him away from his home.
Janie at this time is telling Tea Cake about love "...love aint' somethin' lak uh grindstone dats de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin thing, but still and all, takes it shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore"(182).
"But before that week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss"(140).
Violence against women varies accordingly to income, education, age, marital status, employment status, religion, occupational status, and race/ethnicity. Janie and Tea Cake struggled through the storm and made it out alive, but sadly a rabbit dog bit enough Tea Cake. Before it is all over Tea Cake becomes extremely moody, unable to drink water, and starts behaving like a wild dog. He also falls into a jealous range when he finds out that Turner's husband is back in the glades. Tea Cake tries to shoot Janie with a pistol, but Janie shoots back with a rifle and kills Tea Cake.
Tea Cake once told Janie this about herself, "...don't say you'se ole. You'se uh lil girl baby all de time. God made it so you spent yo' ole age first wid somebody else, and saved up yo' young girl days to spend wid me" (172). Tea Cake was Janie's heart and soul, the only man she really truly loved, the one she had to kill. Like Janie, Hurston's voice has been dismissed as not bitter enough, not depicting the harsher side of black Southern life. She chose to depict the need for individualism, the need to retain that marvelous ness of black society known as storytelling tantamount to the book. But the Black arts movement had become a grindstone, making the same out of all it touched. (Walker 5)
Hurston refused to accept the idea that "racism had reduced black people to mere ciphers whose culture is 'deprived' when different." She characterized her contemporaries who possessed that ideology in other characters, who have been victimized by the power relations of their society, but seek only to change their status within the prevailing system. Through Janie, Hurston rejects the system's terms altogether and finds fulfillment in interpreting her own experience.
Hurston implies that such an individual decision can be more important than political protest. Her race, sex ,or class did not limit Janie, but by the attitudes others sought to make her take towards those conditions. In rejecting those limiting attitudes, Janie remade the meaning of her experience. Hurston asserts her faith in such women and celebrates the Janie's of the world--and her own departure from such attitudes in Their Eyes. (Walker 5)
"The most prolific African American women writer of her time or earlier, the power of her imagery and the richness of the culture which she brings to life through her writings have found her enthusiastic new audiences in recent years" (Hemenway 7).
Low income families where one or more adults are underemployed; or when the husband has a low status job all experience high levels of stress. It is situations like that, which cause violence against women that is issued as a coping method for men.
"The Conscience of the Court " is about Laura Lee Kimble, an uneducated young black women who was born and raised on a slave plantation. She has to undergo a trial, one that will determine the rest of her life. "You jury-gentlemen's, they asked me if I was guilty or no, and I still don't know whether a I is or not. I am a unlearnt woman and common-clad. It don't surprise me to find out I'm ignorant about a whole heap of things. I ain't never rubbed the hair off of my head against no college walls and schooled out nowhere at all. All I'm able to do it to tell you gentlemen's how it was and then you can tell me if I'm guilty or no"(167).
This part of the story summarizes the rest, because it tells the audience that this women really doesn't know her rights, and is confused about her own judgment. During this time the Judge had started to reconsider his motives, and determine his real status as a Judge. "...filled with a reverence to an almost holy dedication. His fascination and awe as a professor traced the more than two thousand years of growth of the concepts of human rights and justice...he had not thought about all this for quite some time"(164).
Laura Lee Kimble sat on the stand being critiqued by the lawyers that were trying to break her down. "The object of a trial, I need not remind you, is to get at the whole truth of a case. The defendant is unlearned, as she had said she had no counsel to guide her along the line of procedure. It is important to find out why an act was committed, as you well know. Please humor the court by allowing the witness to tell her story in her own way"(171).
After she was able to speak her mind in a concise manner, she told all that had happened. "He just looked at me like I was something that the buzzards laid and the sun hatched out, and told me to move out of his way so he could come on in and get his property." "His mouth slewed one-sided and he hauled off and hit me in my chest with his fist two times. Hollered that nothing in the drugstore would kill me no quicker than he would if I didn't git out of his way. I didn't, and then he upped and kicked me"(169).
Finally when all was said an done, Laura Lee Kimble had made her final plea, and was dismissed from the stand. Subsequently after the Judge stood and said what he had to, to the people of the Jury and room. "The protection of women and children, was inherent, implicit in Anglo Saxon civilization, and here in these United States it had become a scared trust. He reviewed the long, slow climb to the Constitution of the United States. The English-speaking people had given the world its highest concepts of the rights of the individual, and they were not going to be made a mock of, and nullified by this court"(176).
This in part is another struggle for women being judged by a higher power in a jury of her peers. This also is a regular day in the lives of women. "In reading Zora Neal Hurston's books, the reader does not feel guilt or pity instead empathizes, love, hates, and mourns, because makes her characters so real and human it is impossible not to" (Walker 7).
As I am now coming to the end of my quodlibet I would like to reiterate that frustration caused by racism and economic deprivation led the male characters in Zora Neale Hurston stories to abuse women.
Since the beginning of time man and woman have been told how they should act and what roles they should take in society. Now the media is playing a major part in telling the role man and woman should take in society. Everyday we see an ad in a magazine, on the TV, or on a billboard telling us what he perfect man or woman is. A man is supposed to support and protect his family, while the women can be two things. She can be a housewife whose only duties are to please her husband, keep the house looking nice, and take care of the kids or she could be just a sex object that's meant to look at.
So no matter if you like these roles or not, they still play a major part in our lives. It is perfectly fine for women to stay home and raise the kids while the man to continues to work, but when you reverse the roles everybody doesn't necessarily agree. Even though the roles of the gender have changed dramatically, we still have a long way to go before we achieve complete equality.