Points to Ponder
What is the relationship of the voice of the narrator, who is not a character in the story, but in the third-person and partially omniscient, to the voices of the characters, who speak primarily in a Southern, black dialect? Some of the descriptive passages in the novel -- the opening passage about "ships at a distance" for example, use richly (and traditionally) poetic language, which contrasts sharply with the humorous, earthy language of Hurston's characters. What is the effect on the reader as the text switches between these different modes? Why might have Hurston chosen to tell the story in this way, when she easily could have chosen to tell it all in "standard" English or all in dialect?
Many readers see Janie's story as the narrative of a woman who comes to find herself, her voice, and ultimately, happiness. Some might even describe the novel as feminist, especially as there seems to be a "progression" of sorts from her marriage to Logan Killicks, to her one with Tea Cake, which seems much closer to the ideal, one in which she is valued for herself and not the work she can do or the way she looks. But is it really that simple? Are there aspects of Tea Cake's personality, and the way in which he treats Janie that cause problems for a purely positive reading of their marriage? And how might you reconcile the end, where Janie is forced to kill Tea Cake with the picture, which is presented of their marriage?
What is the role of humor in this novel? Hurston goes to great lengths to depict the verbal sparring, which is so important in many African-American communities, called "playing the dozens." She represents long scenes on the porch, which have little if anything to do with the plot. What is the purpose of these scenes? What role, overall does the space of "the porch" play in the communities she depicts? And what do you make of the elaborate ceremonies constructed by the community in Eatonville, for example, around the lighting of the street lamp or the mock funeral for the mule?
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Points to Ponder
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