Mary Helen Washington
"'I Love the Way Janie Crawford Left Her Husbands': Zora
Neale Hurston's Emergent Female Hero" (1988)
- What two common perceptions about Their Eyes Were
Watching God does Washington refute in the first
- Explain: "Janie's relationships with men deprive
her of community and of her voice" (194).
- Explain: "Her friendship with Pheoby, occurring
apart from the community, encapsulates Janie and Pheoby in a
private dyad that insulates Janie from the jealousy of other
- Explain: "When the voice of the black oral
tradition is summoned in Their Eyes, it is not used to
represent the collective black community, but to invoke and
valorize the voice of the black male community" (194).
- Explain: "Speech does not lead Janie to power,
however, but to self-division and to further acquiescence in
her status as object" (197).
- Explain: "There are critical places in Their Eyes
where Janie's voice needs to be heard and is not, places where
we would expect her as the subject of the story to speak"
- Does Washington agree with Stepto's claim, as she
paraphrases it, that "Hurston creates only the illusion that
Janie has achieved her voice" (200). Explain. (see also
- Explain: "[Tea Cake] exists in death in a far more
mythical and exalted way than in life" (204).
- How, according to Washington, is Janie more like a
heroine than a hero?
- Explain: "Unable to achieve an easy integration
into society . . . , [Janie] stands on the outside and calls
into question her culture's dependence on externals, its lack
of self-reflection, and its treatment of women" (205).
Other Discussion Questions:
- Explain: "[W]omen are excluded categorically from the
language of the dominant discourse" (194).
- Explain: Women's exclusion reveals "the inadequacy of language,
its inability to represent female experience, its tendency not
only to silence women but to make women complicitous in that
- Explain: "As a symbol of male sexuality [especially in Jonah's
Gourd Vine], the train suggests power, dynamism, and
mobility" (196). Discuss a relevant example from Their
- Explain: "Janie Starks is almost the complete
antithesis of John Pearson" (202).
- Explain: "Janie's final comment that experience is more
important than words is an implicit criticism of the culture
that celebrates orality to the exclusion of inner growth"