Female Elements in Their Eyes Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

This renunciation, depending on one's perspective, represents either a willful act of sacrifice or a selfish act of disobedience. Sandra Pouchet Paquet, however, frames this problematic deed in neutral terms in her analysis of the text, which focuses on its ambivalence toward the role of ancestral knowledge in identity formation. Paquet (2009) asserts that Janie "repudiates the values of her surrogate parents in her conscious quest for selfhood" (p.501). She also suggests that ancestral knowledge operates merely as a means to "psychic wholeness" in the novels and argues that the text is successful in exploring "the divorce from ancestral roots that accompanies conventional notions of success" (p. 500) Indeed, this tension between ancestral knowledge and individualistic goals is why Janie has to grapple with interpreting the nature of the knowledge imparted in her moments of coming to consciousness. Specifically, she wants to interpret the mystery conferred to her through the lens of satisfying her personal desires for autonomy instead of accepting the sacrifice, pain, and labor required to achieve self-fulfillment within the demanding circumstances of both Diaspora, in specific, and mankind's fallen condition, in general.(yes own words)

What distinguishes this text from others that explore any of the numerous and varied diasporic communities across the world are the opportunities available to Janie to effect upward mobility in a way that is wholly unavailable to her elders. Indeed, the novel foregrounds the tension that arises between older, underprivileged blacks and the protagonists, who at first take their privileges for granted. Chief among these newfound privileges, which result from social and cultural shifts between generations, is the freedom to venture away from the false home (the plantation) to which African-Americans were traditionally bound -- Janie signifies to her grandmother the hope that the abolition of slavery (which she experiences firsthand) will provide the chance for blacks to move from under the shadow of whites' brutality and subjugation. Thus, a positive, deliberate form of mobility, one that stands in contrast to the forced mobility of slavery and that affirms a woman's ability to choose her own path in life is a defining trait of the diasporic experience as lived by Janie. Paul Gilroy (1993) in the Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness argues for a lens through which to interpret this manner of diasporic experience. In specific, Janie's less rigidly defined social and cultural conditions shape their understanding of the opportunities available to them, such that they exemplify what Gilroy terms the "rhizomorphic, fractal structure" of the diasporic identity (Paul Gilroy, 1993. p.4)

Modernity and Double Consciousness

Modernity and double consciousness argues for a lens through which to interpret this manner of diasporic experience. In specific, Janie's less rigidly defined social and cultural conditions shape her understanding of the opportunities available to her, such that they exemplify what Gilroy terms the "rhizomorphic, fractal structure" of the diasporic identity. Resilient and adaptable in ways that older generations (and other diasporic communities) might view as forsaking vital traditions, Janie embodies both the American ideal of individualism and the necessity within Diaspora of perseverance. (Scarry, 1985. p. 56)

The tension described above indicates the central character flaw experienced by Janie which is her sense of entitlement. Finding she must negotiate this self-imposed obstacle on the way toward self-rescue, epitomizes both the constricting and liberating aspects of framing the diasporic experience in the expectation of a return to the mythological genesis moment. Specifically, Janie subconsciously engages with the narrative of a return to paradise, which propagates the delusion that a sole agent can somehow reclaim an untainted state of being free of both suffering and the ill intentions of others. This means that people within the Diaspora can form meta-narratives around their experiences such that Diaspora itself gets wrapped up in spiritual matters. The outcomes of this association are psychological, in that one's aspiration for spiritual ascendance can foster perseverance while also instilling reverence for hierarchy. It is this reverence for hierarchy that proves detrimental, because this mindset can have negative outcomes like the acceptance of subjugation as inevitable and the willingness of women to subordinate themselves to men. Thus, the aim of this research paper is to uncover how the Diaspora narrative intertwines with the Edenic and post-Edenic narratives -- while the former permits the long-suffering to aspire to reach some higher spiritual level in relation to God, the latter fosters a more humble sense of how labor can achieve spiritual connection in moments rooted in the tangible.

Othered within the Diasporic Community

The troublesome nature of Janie's outright repudiation of cultural values, as acknowledged by commentary and actions within the novel, is that it severs the diasporic lineage that has sustained the black community through enumerable hardships. For example, Hurston depicts many members of Janie's former home, an exclusively black community called Eatonville in Central Florida, as resentful of her return after a year and a half away from the closely- knit town. These people form a gauntlet of judgment that Janie walks before with poise and confidence, yet their spiteful questions -- such as why she does not "stay in her class"(Hurston, p.2) convey their underlying feeling of abandonment and the "hope that [Janie] might fall to their level some day" (Hurston 2). This sense of having slighted the community demonstrates that Janie's actions have severed her from the diasporic lineage that fosters a familial connection within the community. This emphasis on how the community feels spurned conveys Hurston's ambivalent treatment of Janie's chief sin -- as the community perceives it -- of disavowing the need for their approval. Indeed, the community members seem petty as they remember the "envy they had stored up from other times" (Hurston, p.2) upon viewing Janie for the first time since her return from her journey of self-discovery and self-rescue (Scarry 54). She commits an affront on the community by going outside of it to find her sense of worth, which forsakes the priority in diaspora of adhering to the community.

As the text illustrates, these types of judgments arise as the community's defense mechanism against behaviors that threaten the belief in tradition's infallible ability to support and sustain the diasporic individual. In this context, not only privilege a connection to the past but view it as a necessity for survival, a woman who relinquishes her role as a daughter within her own family threatens to undermine the larger, distinctly feminine role -- so crucial within the Diaspora of conferring knowledge from one generation to another. Morrison, in an interview with Robert Stepto, discusses this role of "the black woman as parent, not as a mother or father, but as a parent, as a sort of umbrella figure, [as] culture-bearer" in the context of describing "what [black women's] huge responsibilities have been" (Morrison, 1977, p.488). This depiction of how a woman of color is expected to uphold cultural traditions -- as if responsible for rooting her immediate community in an awareness of the broadly spanning web of diaspora's traumas and blacks' triumphs in spite of these traumas -- contrasts with Morrison's assertion that the traditional way in which black men have functioned is "going from town to town or place to place or looking out and over and beyond and changing" (Morrison, 1977, p.488)

Given these distinctions between women as rooted and stationary emblems of home and men as transient seekers, a central theme in Their Eyes Were Watching God is that a woman's efforts to repudiate her traditional role as culture- bearer and to explore is equivalent to forsaking her community's values. However, despite its distancing effect, this enables her to self-fashion an identity by means of seeking. Indeed, when Janie rejects communal norms, she must create the world anew for herself. This means that the mandate to labor, which is a consequence of the fall, can manifest in equal parts as purely individualistic goals or more community- oriented building. Ultimately, though, Janie becomes reconciled to engaging with the pressures of the diasporic condition, rather than fleeing from it. As evidence of this reconciliation, she concludes her narratives with a gesture that, though tentative, symbolizes her fusing of personal desires with communal desires. (Morrison 290).

Narrative Progression

Janie at first rejects the obligation to become guardians of the diasporic experience in favor of pursuing her conflicting desires for love and independence. However, she eventually engages with some mythic entity the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Their Eyes Were Watching God that initiates them into a journey of self-discovery and self-rescue that is emblematic of both the displacement and hope of the diasporic condition. During these respective moments of coming to consciousness, Janie become aware of how this mythic entity represents the mysterious and alluring knowledge of mankind's formerly pure and untainted condition, which can no longer be reclaimed because of the fall. This newfound awareness is the catalyst for action in the novel, for it motivates to undergo journeys of…

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