Saturday, June 4, 2011

Janie’s Strive For Love and Happiness

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It is human nature to look for happiness. Some people find it in material possessions, some find it in money, but most of us find it in love. To find true love is a difficult task especially now in the times of cell phones and Jaguars. Money and power play a big role in today’s society, and some people would rather have those things than a love of another human being. In some rare cases it is not even a person’s decision who she (almost every time it’s a woman who is being given away) will marry. Although it does not happen very often, there are still cases where a woman is being married off to a man by an arrangement made by her parents, to insure stability and security of that woman. The standing in the community means a great deal.

Janie was raised by her grandmother. Since Janie’s mother ran away it was just the two of them. As a kid Janie lived in the house where her grandmother was a nanny for a white family. She was treated the same as the white children, they ate together, played together, even got punished together. Janie, unlike most of the blacks at that time, did not see any discrimination while she was growing up. That was the building block of her strong personality. There was some teasing in school about her living in a white folks home, but she did not pay much attention to that.

Nanny’s dream was for Janie to maintain a position of security in society, “high ground” as she put it. Nanny felt that it is both her right and obligation to impose her dreams and her ideas of what is important in life on Janie. From that, of course, came a big conflict. As the book shows the strong relationship between mother and child is important in the African-American community, and the conflict between Janie’s idyllic view of marriage and Nanny’s wish for her to marry for stability and position is a good illustration of just how deep the respect and trust runs. Janie had a very romantic notion of what marriage should be. “She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace so this was a marriage.” Nanny’s idea of a good marriage was someone who has some standing in the community, someone who would get Janie to that higher ground. Nanny wanted Janie to marry Logan Killicks, but according to Janie “he look like some ole skull-head in de grave yard”. Even more importantly to Janie, though, was the fact that “the vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree”. Nanny told Janie “So you don’t want to marry off decent like . . . you wants to make me suck the same sorrow yo’ mama did, eh? Mah ole head ain’t gray enough. My back ain’t bowed enough to suit you!”. After they had the fight over Logan Killicks, Nanny gave an explanation of why Janie needs to marry up the social ladder, which revealed a good deal about the reality of being an African-American woman. She says “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see”. Janie, out of respect for her grandmother, went off to start her role as a wife.

For the most part, Janie’s experiences as a wife were typical of what many women go through, at least in terms of the roles that she was cast in. In contrast to the role of the mother, which is one of giving and nurturing, the role of wife is characterized by giving up one’s self in the marriage. Janie, although she tried very hard, could not make herself love Logan Killicks. Their marriage didn’t last long. Logan changed; he did not give any respect to Janie’s feelings, in fact he didn’t want to hear what she had to say. As he saw it she was just there to do whatever he ordered. Logan realized more and more that Janie was not happy with him, he tried to force her into the traditional wife role by having her do more and more of the demeaning work around the farm. The last straw was when he asked her to get a shovel and move a pile of manure.

She leaves Logan behind for a young man, Joe Starks, who she thinks is her answer to the pear tree. In some ways her marriage with Joe Starks is more of a hardship on Janie than her marriage to Logan. Although she stays married to Joe until he dies, she soon begins to understand that she has exchanged the physical and emotional bondage of her marriage to Logan for intellectual and social bondage by Joe. The scene where Joe Starks is elected mayor illustrates this point, as the crowd wants to hear from “Mrs. Mayor Starks” (she no longer has her own identity). “Mah wife don’t know nothin ‘bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nuthin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home ”. It soon becomes apparent that Joe was only interested in having a wife to use as a showpiece. Janie wanted to feel a part of the community, but Joe kept her isolated so that she would continue to be his “prize” and not become just another woman in the town. After years of marriage Janie began to realize that her husband started to change. He reminded her more and more of Logan. There was a fear in Joe. He was much older than Janie and that ate at him in heart. He stopped giving Janie complements; instead he would tell her that she was an old and unattractive woman, that no man wants her. He did all that just to feel better about himself. But nothing could break Janie’s spirit, not even his death. Joe died when Janie was thirty-five. She was still a young woman full of hopes and dreams. She was also very rich. Nanny was right - It wasn’t love that gave Janie all the material possessions that she now had. But having all this Janie never experienced one thing she treasured the most, she never experienced true happiness.

This is where Tea Cake comes into the picture. Janie met Tea Cake not long after the death of her second husband. She fell in love, real love, love that she waited her whole life for. Tea Cake was truly different from other men, he was loving and caring, and he did not ask anything in return except to be loved. He showed Janie that it is traditional male attitudes toward women that keep them in their submissive roles. With him she felt free.

After a while Janie and Tea Cake left town to get away from the image the people still had of Janie as “Mrs. Mayor Starks.” This meant a new identity for Janie - but this time she was able to build her own identity and what she gave up for Tea Cake she gave up willingly, because she loved him. Janie was able to have this kind of relationship with Tea Cake because he was carefree; he was not caught up in the social or political roles that most men strive for - he just wanted to have fun and support Janie. Living with Tea Cake were the happiest years of Janie’s life. This was the third and final marriage. But no matter how wonderful this marriage was, it ended in a heartbreak. One day there was a big storm and Janie and Tea Cake had to leave the house because the water was coming in fast. They had to run to a higher ground. Then Tea Cake was bitten by a dog. Little did they know it was a mad dog that bit him and soon after the incident he got sick. It got to a point where no doctor could help him. Janie saw his suffering, but she also saw something different in his eyes, something that did not belong.

Janie killed Tea Cake when he tried to kill her. But she did not kill the Tea Cake she knew and loved. That Tea Cake was long gone, and Janie knew that. She also knew that she accomplished everything she wished for in life, so she returned to the town where she was born to live out the rest of her years.

As the novel concludes Janie is still not happy but she has become much stronger as a woman and as a human being. She is not happy at the end but as she reflects on her experiences throughout her life she doesn’t understand what the porchsitters want from her. She has loved and lost, but through her loss she has gained so much more. So I guess the adage is true, ”It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”

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