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495 Brian Roberts The Psychology of Overalls: Janie’s Fashionable Progression as Woman and New Negro in Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, has been thoroughly analyzed through the perspective of its protagonist, Janie Crawford. Hurston has set this story in the final years of the New Negro era after its climax in the late 1920s. A fruitful history of African Americans’ political and social involvement surrounds this text, allowing it to stand in a highly speculated position as to many of its intentions. As a sort of bildungsroman for the archetypal African American woman, Hurston has also set a rich foundation for the analysis of the main character, Janie, and her eventual journey through the years, her marriages, and her personal revelations. Several literary critics discuss Janie and her role in the novel as well as her role among women. Mary Helen Washington is one of many theorists who explores this role through the medium of voice throughout Their Eyes. In her article, “‘I Love the Way Janie Crawford Left Her Husbands’: Zora Neale Hurston’s Emergent Female Hero,” Washington states that, “As object in [the] text, Janie is often passive when she should be active, deprived of speech when she should be in command of language, made powerless by her three husbands and by Hurston’s narrative strategies” (Washington 10). Thus, Washington attributes much of Janie’s social and personal inhibitions to Hurston’s intentional characterization of her in her interactions with men.
but she focuses on it through the scope of womanhood.” Susan Meisenhelder connects more with this New Negro ideology as she expands Janie from a protagonist to a civic symbol. presenting a postructural feminist perspective that highlights Janie’s lack of control. again. beneath white men. Her claim is that black women have played the lowest role in society. These statements assume that Janie defines her sense of womanhood solely through the interactions she encounters with other men. it is imperative to remember that Hurston has also endowed her male characters with similar amounts of depth and complexity. Meisenhelder analyzes the concept of black inferiority. Washington chooses to focus her parallels between Their Eyes and society on the feminine experience. are not heard.Call 2 Many other critical theorists echo this statement when analyzing Their Eyes. I would again emphasize that Hurston’s male . In encountering the idea that Hurston’s goals in writing Their Eyes were mainly gender-related. to take this strictly feminist stance would be to ignore the blaring presence of New Negro-ism and to assume that Hurston has disregarded the pressure for black writers to elevate the nation’s opinion of blacks everywhere. and that womanhood is Hurston’s main intention in creating this character. or even in creating this entire novel. but. white women. In “False Gods And Black Goddesses In Naylor’s Mama Day and Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. In confronting this argument. black men (1444). and finally. While this is a rich and valid aspect of Janie and Their Eyes to examine. ironically. thus begging the scope of criticism to be widened so that the female experience is not the only experience recognized in the novel. rather. exhibit the role of the estranged and discriminated black women whose voices. Janie’s marriages and interactions with black men do not serve as any sort of “model” for black women. representing marginalized black women everywhere (Meisenhelder 1447). as she is the conscious chooser of her life’s frequently changing paths. For.
This locality never breaches the bounds of the storyline. yet. It is important to analyze these feminist-centered aspects of Janie. I feel the feminist reading of Janie. including Janie. discusses the local concepts of the plot.] Neal and [Midge L. Janie’s progression through the story. soon serve as a vehicle for another type of feminist reading in an ethnographic lens. comprises only half of the message Hurston has communicated in the novel. and hair. There is more capability in Zora Neale Hurston. It seems that modern literary society cannot overlook Hurston’s strong female protagonist and read this as a social commentary solely on women and their societal roles. European physical traits. “Compared to Black males. when analyzed through her female nature. while valid and necessary. These physical traits.] Wilson designate as the most important: light skin and long hair” (Ashe 580). they often fail to apply to the greater surrounding society. Ashe better represents the broader scope of the black community at first when analyzing black fashion trends. Bertram D. Ashe progresses from those focuses as she specifically analyzes Janie’s appearance as a way to better identify the character. as they are present and defining. Ashe identifies a sense of inferiority among black women as Janie represents the male black community’s obsession with females’ white. however. and oppression within the world of Their Eyes Were Watching God. In reviewing these critical analyses of Their Eyes. including those [Angela M. it considers Janie’s motivations.Call 3 characters show as much complexity and depth throughout the novel as her female characters. and we must allow her the success of producing . Ashe proclaims that “Janie’s features conform to the black version of the white ideal. Black females have been more profoundly affected by the prejudicial fallout surrounding issues of skin color. Such impact can be attributed in large part to the importance of physical attractiveness for all women” (579). aspirations. facial features.
“Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God: Black Novel of Sexism. and finally to natural and comfortable. Essentially. further parallel the transformation of the New Negro era from the inferior Old Negro. The global connection that suggests social parallels between Janie’s clothes and the New Negro era must be magnified.Call 4 more than a slanted. to pretentious. Janie’s clothes. which progress from inferior. in shifting our attention to the global message of Their Eyes.” Janie’s progression in clothing throughout the novel represents her progression through life: . to the most successful role of the natural Negro. I contend that Hurston deserves the title of a successful literary artist because she does not allow social themes and agendas to obstruct an honest story with complex characters and character interactions. A close reading of Janie’s fashion and the psychology behind the clothes she wears throughout Their Eyes first exemplifies the local position of Janie’s progression through the plot. Janie comes to represent something more than the female experience. female-centered novel. The trend in feminist readings of Their Eyes seems to assume that Hurston has armed Janie with unrealistically little voice and personality with which to combat her situations. Thus. Janie can better represent the entire African American race through the subtle and unobtrusive details of her clothing in relation to the progression of the story. Jay Walker’s article. and analyzed with the understanding that it does not slant or skew the simple effectiveness of Hurston’s story. As Bertram Ashe summarazies of S. to pretentious propaganda. This suggests that her plot and characterization suffer because of her fixation on the social implications of Janie’s position of inferiority. I choose to focus on Janie’s clothing because of the fact that it has been overlooked. I argue that Crawford’s transformation throughout the novel is illustrated in the evolution of Janie’s personal apparel.
I will address each of these phases in Their Eyes and similarly compare Janie’s dress to her progression in the story. contends Walker. Instead.. men notice Janie's buttocks. she merely depicts an image for the readers and the porch-sitters of Eatonville as she offers no explanation until we further investigate her story through the character of Phoebe. She is “young” and lacking in direction. (Ashe 582) Thus. is represented by overalls (526). and is characterized by the apron Janie flings away when she runs off with Joe. “The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets .Call 5 S. Janie begins the story without a voice. Locally. Her marriage with Joe is symbolized by the “headrag” he forces her to wear. when Janie's freedom to travel and join porch conversations. “Here in a very probing. Janie's third marriage. It is here that Janie. we interpret this introduction as a beginning for Janie because she offers no information for us. due to extenuating circumstances. then her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt” (Hurston 2). she is objectified. she is haggard in a pair of faded overalls. and thus resembles the beginnings of a character in a typical bildungsroman. Additionally. Instead. address Janie’s marriage with Killicks as the first stage of her analyzed attire. This garb speaks for Janie before she can speak for herself. I will examine her introduction to the story when she returns to Eatonville. hair. I will not. Janie is not only looked down upon in this first scene of the story. and breasts-her parts rather than her person” (Ramsey 42). with Tea Cake. When Janie Crawford Killicks Starks Wood returns to her home in Eatonville.. is the porch era. is viewed as inferior and lacking humanity. Her marriage with Killicks might be regarded as the kitchen era. however. ambivalent frame. “She surely feels the strain of men's eyes boring at her in possessive desire . Jay Walker identifies Janie’s marriages by the predominant symbols that emerge from those marriages.
The two helped build the town of Eatonville into the thriving community it became. the ‘porch sitters’ wonder. Furthermore. This inferior depiction of African Americans begins Their Eyes with a similarly inferior depiction of Janie. is always begging white people. the Old Negro is disparaged. She offers no wisdom or personal information. but serves instead as a spectacle and a source of gossip. The Messenger: “The Old [Negro]. Janie’s initial appearance in overalls broaches the subject of African American social classes. however. Janie is enamored with Jody’s power. Even in the midst of other African Americans. We can see. a sort of glorified cripple with a can” (Rogers 68). This distinction of a certain lower class contrasts sharply with the position Janie occupied previously in Eatonville. At first. cast aside as a bad memory of a graceless people. and her dress. that Jody’s expectations of her fall below any sort of human compassion.Call 6 and mounting resentment […]” (43). In her progression of apparel. Janie represents the popular view of the Old Negro. then. inferior image of the Old Negro. willing to comply with his wishes for her in her behavior. her ideals. “Class is an issue from the very outset of the novel: as Janie returns from the muck in her overalls. Joel Augustus Rogers remarks in African American magazine. Janie transforms from her initial lower-class clothes into the gaudy attire that Jody Starks wishes to display to the town: . Janie left Logan Killicks to follow the suave character of Jody Starks. Janie soon realizes. ‘Why don't she stay in her class?’ [Hurston 2]—which suggests she is too uppity—even though her overalls indicate her recent working-class experience” (Hathaway 181). as the hierarchical aim was to retain African Americans in the lower classes. hat in hand. the parallels between the objectified Janie and the downtrodden.
(Hurston 41) At this point in the story. the other women were the gang. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. flowing hair is a contemporary symbol of sought after beauty. but the article is interrupted by a centered note. “Jody’s behavior […] signifies Janie’s status as an object” (Washington 12). as seen in the African American magazine. That was all” (Hurston 55).Call 7 Jody told her to dress up and stand in the store all that evening. The Messenger. The focus of the article. shifts through a lens of high .J. “This business of the head-rag irked her endlessly.] That night he ordered Janie to tie up her hair around the store. Janie has lost much of her humanistic qualities to those around her. thick tresses of smooth. “Winners in Bobbed Hair Contest Held At Manhattan Casino” in which three African American Women pose with various urban. Saggitarius in The Message titled.” discusses gender equalization in political and social settings at the time. Hurston writes. depict black women with long. Janie’s hair represents another form of expression that Jody stifles in his control over her. instead of an actual person. and he didn’t mean for nobody else’s wife to rank with her. an article by A. Her hair was NOT going to show in the store […. She must look on herself as the bell-cow. In contrast to this image. Such advertisements like Madam C. “Where the Real Power Lies. She is a vacuous symbol that represents an idea that Jody is striving for. Everybody was coming sort of fixed up. thus. marcel-waved bobs (Saggitarius 29). black hair. So the put on one of her bought dresses and went up the new-cut road all dressed in wine-colored red. Her silken ruffles rustled and muttered about her. Janie’s long. white. But Jody was set on it.
It is at this point that W. might well add another foot […. It is at this section of Their Eyes that we see the similarities between Janie and the New Negro era grow together. puffed out over pads of wire and horsehair and topped with an immense hat.] whatever art I have . This white fashion that surrounds Jody and Janie represents the Edwardian fashion trends of the early 20th century. wordlessly following Jody’s dream for years without any personal input in the environment around her. and her upswept hairdo.’ Joe insists on separating her from the Eatonville townspeople by keeping her in a ‘high. (Lurie 72-73) Quite immobilizing conditions! It is obvious that Jody desires no true expression from Janie except the elevated expression he wishes to convey himself and those around him. all Art is propaganda and ever must be […. Janie’s married life to Jody carries out sometime in the early 1900s to the 1920s.E. While living with Jody Starks. Du Bois claimed: “Thus. Janie loses her voice. “Determined to force Janie to acknowledge her ‘difference. In this garb. Boots with substantial heels increased the goddess’s stature.Call 8 end. high collars to elevate and support the chin and heavy trailing skirts.] Younger and slimmer women […] often appeared awkward and cluttered with decoration. black women battle a self-conscious desire to emulate white fashion. manipulated fashion among black women. It seems that at this point in history. Janie is coerced into setting herself above her peers. Jody adheres to the following trends of the times: There were rigid padded corsets to produce the fashionable S-curved figure.B. Assuming the story ends contemporary to the time of the novel. ruling chair’ (Their Eyes 54)” (Ashe 581). corset covers trimmed with waterfalls of starched lace to fill out the bosom. In stuffing Janie into such ridiculously gaudy apparel. blouses with immense puffed sleeves to extend the shoulders.
“[S]he had told her girl self to wait for her in the looking glass. Similarly. but a handsome woman had taken her place” (Hurston 87). Just as Janie was envisioned to be someone she was not. and suffered because of her forced assuming of that role.Call 9 for writing has been used always for propaganda […. Janie soon bedecks herself in flowy summer dresses when she meets the character Tea Cake. 29). She went over to the dresser and looked hard at her skin and features. While this article presented conscious goals of blacks in the New Negro era. “The ideal woman of the thirties was in her thirties. and classically handsome rather than childishly pretty” (Lurie 77). Janie finally sees the natural beauty in herself. . But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent” (Du Bois par. Perhaps she’d better look. As was the contemporarily fading trend of Edwardian clothing. fashion trends note that after the 20’s. In a 1927 issue of The Messenger. Du Bois advocated all African Americans to ignore the aesthetic value in their art and use their talents purely as a vehicle to send the New Negro’s message to the white society.] I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. “Women’s clothes followed more or less natural lines” (Lurie 73). W. Joel Augustus Rogers gives a contemporary view of the Old Negro during the rise of the New Negro era when he claims that “the New Negro wastes no time worrying about his color” (Rogers 68). After Jody’s death. one cannot help but catch the tone of hopeful expectations rather than observations that have already been realized. propagandistic writing during the climax of the New Negro era envisioned a race of African Americans that could not exist as they were ignoring the humanity of their people underneath the frilly writing.B. It had been a long time since she had remembered.E. The young girl was gone. Janie removes the kerchief restraining her hair and begins to dress more comfortably after her period of mourning for Jody.
as Emma Lou meets the flamboyant nd obnoxious character Hazel Mason.Call 10 While married to Jody Starks. Wallace Thurman addresses this subject in his novel. Maxine Leeds Craig. professor of gender studies at University of California. As she leaves Eatonville with Teacakes. notes that in the 1930s. Throwing off her mourning garb.] Black girl—white hat—red-and-white-striped sport suit—white shoes and stockings—red roadster. Janie was forced to wear extravagant costumes of expensive fabric and color. The picture was complete. All Hazel needed to complete her circus-like appearance. Janie celebrates her independence with socially unaffected costumes. “Negroes always bedecked themselves and their belongings in ridiculously unbecoming colors and ornaments [. her dress is still somewhat extravagant.. The porch-sitters of Eatonville even wonder. because such colors made dark skin appear darker” (Craig 143). . was to have some purple feathers stuck in her hat” (Thurman 44). Traditionally. especially red. however. “Traditional fashion advice for color phobic Negro women was to avoid bright shades of clothing. thought Emma Lou. African Americans avoided clothing that drew attention to themselves.. “Where's dat blue satin dress she left here in?” (Hurston 2). this old rule seems antiquated to Janie and does not phase her as she dresses in pinks and blues while she and Tea Cake court.. The Blacker the Berry. Yet.
English scholar Rosemary V. she is also ready to reject others’ attempts to “class her off” […. setting out for Florida. her exteriority. it is only then that she sheds the trappings of femininity and begins wearing overalls. and shedding of. the fashion press. With this. socialites and fashion editors were discussing the necessities of a ‘Palm Beach wardrobe. and retailers referred to ‘the Palm Beach season’” (Clemente 129). He is loving her as she is — not trying to make her into a creation of his own” (Ashe 583). writers could finally start focusing on writing the human experience. Hathaway remarks of the representation of Janie’s physical appearance: It is only in Janie's relationship with Tea Cake that she is allowed to fully inhabit her body. No longer striving for the unnatural push for propaganda. the fact that it is a costume party notes that Janie’s transformation is still radically Bohemian. Though. One woman here is even seen sporting a set of overalls at “at Jimmy Cromwell’s costume party at El Mirasol. but immensely rewarding nonetheless. near the resort of Palm Beach. rather than the social commentary of African Americans. .] (Hathaway 180) Janie has finally reached a state of natural comfort and confidence in her relationship with Tea Cake. In essence. The social connotations of Palm Beach in the early 20th century communicate the epitome of natural and comfortable. Similarly. “Tea Cake is expressing his love by glorifying in Janie's beauty.Call 11 Janie and Tea Cake eventually leave Eatonville. it is here that the New Negro era has finally reached its state of equilibrium. Even fashion trends emulated a laid back style: “By 1910.’ Within a decade. This last metamorphosis also alludes to Janie's final realization about. Ironically. albeit a few difficulties. manufacturers. Their relationship is one with. February 1927” (Mayhew).
Call 12 Zora Neale Hurston embodies this idea of the progression of the New Negro era in her own writing. and no longer relies on the hierarchical feedback black writers received. but of expressing himself as an individual person with an individual perspective and experiences. those closing the New Negro era settled into a comfortable. Instead.. Consequently. but rather as an attempt to imagine how those old traditions are transmogrifying into the new. Hathaway states: If Hurston were writing against the grain of her own era—focusing on rural.. as her contemporaries Wright and Locke (as well as many recent critics) would have it. it is also at this point in history that the New Negro era has finally settled into an independent form of literature that has self-realized its talents. “The frames at the . While some may argue that analyzing Janie’s beginnings at the of the novel when she returns to Eatonville is futile because it is in fact a chronologically nonlinear scene. As Janie returns to Eatonville. (Hathaway 186-187) It is here that the New Negro finally proves himself to be a legitimately talented contributor to society. end of the novel further suggest neither a broken nor a deluded . I argue that the sequential order of events in Their Eyes is not so important as the unveiling of events to the reader. Southern African Americans at a time when the aesthetics were all about the urban and the Northern—is that so much a sign of her being a reactionary. bedecked in overalls. This is not due to his conforming of white ways or of black propaganda. or a sign of her inventiveness? We can read Hurston's novel not so much as a romantic eulogy for a disappearing way of life. confident stride that eloquently depicted life as it really was. “It is at this moment that Janie achieves self-realization independent of familial or masculine influences in the forms of her grandmother or past lovers” (Marquis 84).
” The Crisis 32 (1926): 290-297. when the story begins. Perhaps it was society’s perception. Perhaps not much had changed in the innate characters of the berated slaves to the intellectual scholars. Print. “‘Why Don’t He Like My Hair?’: Constructing African-American Standards of Beauty in Toni Morrison’s ‘Song of Solomon’ and Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God. Print. Bertram D. a strong and vigorous woman committed to life and experience” (Meisenhelder 78).” Journal of Social History (2007): 128-148. Deirdre. 1900-1960. yet. we are initially introduced to a pitiful portrait of the remains of a human being. who finally realized the inherent humanity of African Americans. “Made in Miami: The Development of the Sportswear Industry in South Florida. “Criteria of Negro Art. W. .Call 13 woman. Print. both whites and blacks alike.4 (1995): 579-592.’” African American Review 29. This change of perception carries over to the idea of the Old Negro versus the New Negro. but merely our perception has changed after learning her story. It is imperative to consider the progression between the two eras of African American literary—and otherwise—history. Perhaps her character has not changed too drastically from start to finish of Their Eyes.… [Janie] strides into Eatonville.E. Du Bois. Clemente. Hurston suggests.B. Therefore. Works Cited and Consulted: Ashe. it is interesting to note the similarities between Janie’s apparel in the beginning of the novel and at the end.
“‘Dancing Is Dancing No Matter Who Is Doing It’: Zora Neale Hurston. Print. Marquis. Alison. Hathaway. and the Politics of Race. Print. Rosemary V. Margaret. Understanding Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Student Casebook to Issues. Augustus. Print. Ain’t I a Beauty Queen?: Black Women. 1981. Print. Print. Lurie. CT: Greenwood Press. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 2002.4 (1928): 96. Print. 1927-1931. “The Unbearable Weight of Authenticity: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and a Theory of ‘Touristic Reading. Neal A. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Maxine Leeds.’” Journal of American Folklore 117. Westport. The Messenger 10.2 (2003): 79-88. and Desire in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Beauty. The Languge of Clothes.Call 14 Craig.464 (2004): 168-190. Advertisement. “‘When De Notion Strikes Me’: Body Image.” New York Social Diary 9 Mar 2011. Literacy.1 (2007): 129-155.J. Print.” Southern Literary Journal 35.” College Literature 34. Food. Madam C. and Historical Documents. New York: Random House. Zora Neale. New York: Oxford University Press. and Contemporary Writing Pedagogy. Lester. 1937. “Philadelphia in Palm Beach: A Social Diary. Print. Walker’s WONDERFUL HAIR GROWER. Heard. Print. Hurston. Mayhew. . Sources. 1999. Matthew.
Print.” Callaloo 23. Ramsey. “Where the Real Power Lies. Ed. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.” Southern Literary Journal 27 (1994): 36-50. “False Gods And Black Goddesses In Naylor’s Mama Day and Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Washington. . Print. Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Race and Gender in the Work of Zora Neale Hurston.Call 15 Meisenhelder. Susan. Joel Augustus.” The Messenger 9. “The Compelling Ambivalence of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Mary Helen. Print. “Who is the New Negro.” Zora Neale Hurston’s their Eyes were Watching God. Harold Bloom. ---. “‘I Love the Way Janie Crawford Left Her Husbands’: Zora Neale Hurston’s Emergent Female Hero.4 (2000): 1440-1448. Rogers. A. William. 1999. Print.3 (1927): 68.1 (1927): 29. Print. Print. and Why?” The Messenger 9. New York: Infobase Publishing. 2008. Saggitarius. 9-19.
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