African-American Literature, Meridian And Their Eyes Were Watching God Essay, Research Paper
Many comparisons can be drawn between the novels Meridian, by Alice Walker, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. The protagonists of both books are African-American females searching in a confused, bewildered world. Meridian is the story of the title character s life from childhood to the Civil Rights Movement while Eyes chronicle Janie s ever-evolving character from life with a white family in the Deep South to her return home to Eatonville. Meridian and Janie s constant need to identify and connect with their community while maintaining a sense of self-actualization drives main character development and catalyzes many important events in both works.
An important key in the cultural heritage and upbringing of both women were their respective maternal figures. Janie s Nanny and Meridian s mother were the key figures in their early cultural and self awareness. These two women attempted to mold Janie and Meridian in their own images; the only images they knew.
Meridian s mother was a product of the southern culture around the time Janie would have lived. She lived as a schoolteacher in her young adult years. She simply fell into the cultural trap of love and marriage. Walker describes the love Meridian s mother felt as toleration for his (Meridian s father s) habits (50). This woman had no want of children. She was completely unprepared for what they would mean to her life. Children shattered Meridian s mother. Meridian would have loved for her mother to break the bonds of society like her great-grandmother Feather Mae, who loved walking nude about the yard and worshipped only the sun. But, her mother fell into the southern rut. This rut included never talking about sex. Meridian, believing the subject taboo, never spoke of it either. Just as in Eyes, it was one of those things that everyone did, but no one spoke of. Meridian, being an impressionable young woman, began to have sex. She, perhaps like many other young women of her time, struggled with doing something with such frequency that she did not enjoy (61). She was torn, even at such an early age, between fitting in to her culture and limiting her actions based on her own beliefs. Having to identify with her culture and be a normal black girl led to an unexpected and altogether unwelcome pregnancy.
This pregnancy led to the first major event in Meridian s young life, marriage. It would not have been proper for a girl to have a baby out of wedlock. Once again, she chose community over self and married Eddie. While married she read Sepia, Tan, True Confessions, Real Romances, and Jet. According to these magazines, Woman was a mindless body, a sex creature, something to hand false hair and nails on (71). The culture of the 1950 s was telling her to be a plaything. This exact moment in time was when Meridian decided that her community, her life for the past 20 years, was not her. She became aware of the Civil Rights movement and of the past and present of a much larger world (73). She was to connect with the community through activism, no longer through helpless subservience. She put her baby up for adoption and left to join the movement that would truly connect her with her people and, just as importantly, with herself.
Janie s grandmother, Nanny, was a cultural relic from the days of slavery who greatly influenced Janie s early life. Nanny s concerns for her granddaughter were simple. In her mind, for a girl like Janie to be happy she needed a man with property to protect her. While Janie was under the pear tree dreaming within herself, Nanny was busy with thoughts of marrying her to Logan Killicks. Janie s nascent sense of self objected to the proposal. She was not aware of marriage and not ready for love as her grandmother explained it to her. According to her culture, she was to marry Logan, then fall in love with him. She had wanted to experiment with love, like she had with Johnny Taylor. Nanny would hear nothing of it. Her words made Janie s kiss across the gatepost seem like a manure pile after a rain (12). Nanny s influence, the influence of a culture Janie knew nothing of, was detrimental to Janie s mind, to her free will. Hurston describes Janie s feelings as such: The vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree (13). The need to fit into and connect with her own culture was destroying Janie s sense of self.
Janie remained married to Logan Killicks for a year. This year of doing what was expected of her drove Janie to look for any means of freeing herself. Her need to reconnect with herself and her own wants led to her decision to leave Killicks for the ambitious Joe Starks. Logan s house was a lonesome place like a stump in the middle of the woods where nobody had ever been (20). She was willing to leave with Joe Starks even though he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees (28). She was willing to leave with Joe Starks because she imagined herself becoming a new person. She imagined herself connecting with a new community that would allow her to be the woman she wanted to be. Starks was merely a vessel and an unimportant one at that. Hurston comments on this by writing that [e]ven if [Starks] was not there waiting for her, the change was bound to do her good (31). Janie was at a point in her life where she needed a sense of self-actualization. She needed to break away from the community she was so deeply entrenched in and set out on her own. Janie s need for self-fulfillment catalyzed one of the most critical turning points in Eyes, her marriage to Joe Starks.
Janie s na ve leap into the arms of Joe Starks caused her to become engulfed in a much larger fight for identification in a much different set of circumstances. Unlike Meridian, Janie s first leap into the unknown did bring Janie the connection and happiness she desired. Meridian spent the rest of her life connecting with the southern black community by acting as their caretaker. Janie, however, must continue to struggle with a husband who doesn t understand her and a community that she cannot, no matter how hard she tries, associate with. The community in which she resided put her on a pedestal. She was the mayor s wife, an untouchable commodity. She longed to be able to laugh at the stories of Matt Bonner’s mule and take part in laughing at the flirtatious skits put on by the men and young women on the front porch of the store without Joe pushing her away to go on and see whut Mrs. Bogle want (66). The culture in which she lived, the community she would call her home for the next 20 years, would not allow her to make even that simple connection. Gradually she became a woman of silence. Her inner-self was beaten back by a town that wasn t allowed to know her. The woman who got old too fast needed a miracle to bring her back to people and to help her to blossom as a person.
The miracle, it turned out, was the death of Jody. Jody s death allowed Janie to leave with Tea Cake and begin her knew life. Tea Cake was a representation of the new community into which she would be introduced. She would not allow herself to be thought of as the mayor s wife any longer. Her need to be reconnected to a community led her to leave with Tea Cake and find a new home in the muck. Janie, with the aid of Tea Cake, discovered a community with which she could connect. The key to binding with this community was that there were no outside influences forcing themselves upon her. Tea Cake allowed her to cut her own path and be her own woman. Her time in the muck with Tea Cake allowed her to, upon her return to Eatonville after Tea Cake s death, pull in her horizon like a great fish-net and to call in her soul to come and see (Both 184) the world and community she had once been so removed from. She had finally, at page 184 in the very final paragraph, found her connection to the world and to her own soul.
The need to connect with one s own community and to understand and liberate one s own soul can be strong forces in one s life. These forces were incredibly strong in the lives of Janie, from Zora Neale Hurston s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Meridian, from Alice Walker s novel of the same name. Their needs to identify with a community as well as with themselves caused the action in both works to flow and obtain meaning.