Spousal Abuse In Their Eyes Were Watching

God Essay, Research Paper

The theme of violence is very evident in Zora Neale Hurston?s novel, ?Their Eyes Were Watching God.? One of these evident violent actions is spousal abuse. Harsh words that cannot be recalled are spoken in moments of anger or stress. Verbal and physical abuse are as old as human relationships. They are ways of asserting power and maintaining authority, of venting pent-up anger, or, in its meanest occurrences, an explosion of drunken fury.

Joe asserts his power over Janie by striking her several times? once, when things go wrong in the kitchen and his dinner isn’t satisfactory. He strikes her violently in the presence of the porch sitters after she verbally assaults him in front of his friends. Ironically, her attack on him may have been more grievous than his retaliation on her. The scars and bruises of his blow heal quickly, but his degradation in the eyes of his friends, not to mention the gossip among the women, never goes away. Janie, acting the role of an outwardly compliant wife, is inwardly a rebellious woman, even though she takes Joe’s assaults without physically striking back. She is consistently presented as being a small person, sometimes called “LilBits.? A blow from her would have been ineffective. Verbal abuse serves her only too well.

Janie’s second verbal attack on Joe occurs when she knows Joe is on his deathbed. The cruelest thing Janie says to him is that his death is imminent. He reacts to that news with fear of death and hatred of Janie: “Ah wish thunder and lightnin’ would kill yuh!” he cries. She continues with her vengeful review of their unhappy marriage, but it’s too late. It falls on unheeding ears.

Marriage to Tea Cake promises a better life, but it will not be free from abuse. Tea Cake treats Janie in a way so completely different from the way Joe treated her that she has no need for a sharp tongue. Unfortunately for Janie, certain standards of masculine behavior are expected in the muck?and striking women is one of them. Tea Cake hits Janie not because he has any need to do it in anger but because that is what the men and women in the muck expect him to do. They respect a marriage that contains a few blows to the wife. Hurston so carefully establishes Tea Cake’s happy-golucky nature and his affection for Janie that when he strikes her, the reader almost looks for an apology from him!

Hurston presents wife-beating as a way of life, yet wife-beating is not limited to age, social or economic status, color, or nation. Nor is verbal abuse on the part of husband or wife bound by any limits. Janie’s experiences represent a small part of a universal circumstance. This is why the issue of violence is evident in Hurston?s novel.


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