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Community and the Impact on the Individual
How do individuals exist as part of a community and what does this means to a person's individuality? This is a key question explored by Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God and by Carson McCullers in Ballad Of The Sad Cafe. Zora Neale Hurston and Carson McCullers both include a setting that represents the community. In Their Eyes Were Watching God the setting is the porch, while in Ballad Of The Sad Cafe the setting is the cafe. The two settings both represent people existing as part of a community, rather than individually. The two settings also represent the conflicts that occur because people exist as part of a community. Overall, Zora Neale Hurston and Carson McCullers both show the conflict that occurs as an individual tries to align their own needs with the needs of the larger community. In this way, it seen that a sense of community is part of a person's life but can also infringe on their life. The various functions of the two community settings will now be discussed for the two works. This will show how the community setting is a place that is the opposite of loneliness and alienation, a place where people are judged, and a place where the conflict between your needs and the needs of society plays out.
The community setting can be considered as a place that represents the opposite of alienation and loneliness. When individuals are in this community place, they become connected to the larger society rather than disconnected from it. Fowler (260) notes that a dread of isolation is apparent in Ballad Of The Sad Cafe. This is seen in the character of Amelia, who is initially known as a distant and unfriendly person. Due to this part of her nature, she remains disconnected from the larger society and alone because of this. This changes when Cousin Lymon becomes part of her life. He initially meets people in Amelia's store, where a gathering of the town takes place. This meeting represents the point where Amelia begins to become socially connected. This continues as Lymon's friendly nature attracts more people to the store. This eventually attracts so much social gathering that the store is converted to a cafe. At this point, Amelia has become fully connected to her society. Due to this connection, she no longer exists in a state of alienation and loneliness. It is also significant that the cafe that was once dilapidated and uninviting becomes a cheerful place that attracts people. It also seems that Amelia changes from being cold and unhappy to enjoying the company of others. This suggests that Amelia does have a need for socializing and desires an escape from her alienation. This is also seen when Amelia is faced with the option of getting rid of her husband, while knowing that this would also mean losing Lymon. Amelia says that "It is better to take in your mortal enemy than face the terror of living alone" (McCullers 72). This illustrates the need that Amelia has to avoid loneliness and achieve a sense of connection. Importantly though, it is not Amelia that provides the sense of connection. Instead, this is provided by Lymon, who has the character and attitude to change an uninviting cafe into a place where everyone wants to be. Due to Amelia owning the cafe, she becomes part of the socializing. However, without Lymon, the cafe returns to being a bland place and eventually closes down. This shows that while Amelia seeks connection with others, she is not able to achieve it for herself. Another more social individual is required to create the kind of social environment where her need for connection can be met. This shows that individuals have a need for social connection, but require a suitable place to achieve this connection. The same function of a community place is observed in Their Eyes Were Watching God. It is seen that the porch is the place where people meet and become a community. This is seen in many occasions where the women meet on the porch to talk and gossip. This is also seen where the men meet on porches. This includes that porches are the places where community decisions are made such as Joe getting the town's support in building a store and the election of Joe as mayor of the town. This illustrates that in Their Eyes Were Watching God, the porch represents more than just a social gathering. The porch also becomes a place where people play their part in community life. This includes the porch of the store, where people continually gather to interact. The next important point is that Janie is in a similar situation as Amelia, where she is separated from community life. Her husband Joe does not allow her to talk to the other women on the porch, believing that Janie is above them and should not lower herself to their level. Janie is also confined to working in the store, but is not allowed to interact with others on the porch. For these reasons, Janie becomes disconnected from others. It is observed that Janie feels isolated and alone just as Amelia did. This illustrates that the porch allows people to feel part of the community, while Janie not socializing on the porch makes her feel disconnected from others. The situation changes for Janie when she meets Tea Cake. Their first interaction together occurs when Tea Cake teaches Janie to play checkers on the porch. This represents that Tea Cake is allowing Janie social interaction in two ways. Firstly, he is playing a game with her that requires two people. This means that he is interacting with her in a social way, while also teaching her a game that will allow her to interact with others. Secondly, he invites her to join him on the porch. This represents that Tea Cake allows Janie to gain a connection to society, with this related to the change he sparks in her. Rather than hold her back like Joe does, Tea Cake releases her. Part of this release involves allowing her to interact socially and be part of the community, which is something that she has always wanted but has not been able to attain. The first small change is seen on the night that Janie first meets Tea Cake, where she spends the night on her porch. This suggests that Janie is changing and now believes that she can be part of the community. The trend continues for Janie after Joe dies and she moves to the Everglades with Tea Cake. Tea Cake and Janie's porch becomes the center of social life and Janie becomes a part of this social life. This is described at one point saying that Janie can "listen and laugh and even talk some herself if she wants to" (Hurston 127). This illustrates that the porch represents social connection and an end to alienation from the community. In this way, the porch serves the same purpose for the community as Amelia's cafe served.
The next function of the community setting is that it is a place where people are judged. This is seen in Ballad Of The Sad Cafe where the people who meet in the cafe gossip and pass judgment on others. This is clearly seen where they pass their judgment on the relationship between Amelia and Lymon, stating that they believe that the relationship is incestuous and unacceptable. This illustrates that the place where the community meets is also the place where the community standards become set. It is important to note that different people in the cafe probably have different ideas on Amelia and Lymon. However, when a majority of people state their opinion, this opinion becomes adopted by the community as a whole. In this way, the community has one idea and this governs the behavior of everyone else. The same idea is presented in Their Eyes Were Watching God. It is noted that the people on the porch engage in gossip and pass judgment on others. One source describes this function of the porch saying that the porch "is viewed as the hierarchy of their society" and that "the elite sit and place judgment upon all that dare to pass by" (Litkicks). This is seen clearly when Janie returns to Eatonville and is met by the people on the porches, who gossip about her as she passes by them. It is also seen that the people on the porch lose their individuality as they become part of the community. This is seen where the people on the porch begin to torture the yellow mule. Janie remains inside and store and views the situation as an individual. From her standpoint, she sees the cruelty of the situation and wants to save the mule. The people on the porch do not have individual views. Instead, they act as one and do not…[continue]
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