Their Eyes Were Watching God
Questions for journal writing, in-class discussion, or small group analysis
Chapter 1 (and following chapters):
1. This chapter introduces Janie Crawford and several important characteristics of Eatonville, the town that she lives in. The chapters following this one will take the reader back in time and show the character of Janie and how she was shaped by other places she lived. If you can see the town of Eatonville, as it is presented in the first chapter, as a character, write a journal entry about what this character, Eatonville, is like.
- What are its attitudes?
- What are its values?
- Are Janie and Eatonville compatible? Explain why you think they are or are not.
2. In the first chapter, porches are presented as the place where people come to congregate, share stories, and express opinions. We learn in the first chapter that they are also the place where the people sitting on them can feel most natural and most human with each other. All day long they feel like “mules and brutes have occupied their skins,” leaving their skins feeling unnatural to them. At the end of the day when they sit on the porch, their skins feel “powerful and human.” The back porch of Janie’s house is where she tells her story to Pheoby.
What do you think is empowering to the people of Eatonville about porches and porch talk? What can happen on a porch that can’t happen in other places?
Where do you go to feel “powerful and human,” either with others or by yourself?
1. White people do not appear very frequently in Their Eyes Were Watching God. How is the white Washburn family portrayed in Chapter 2? What effect do they seem to have on young Janie Crawford?
2. What does the pear tree symbolize in this chapter? What qualities does it have that appeal to Janie? What does it awaken in her?
3. How does the story of Nanny’s life help you understand why she decided that Janie should marry Logan Killicks?
4. Janie didn’t know Johnny Taylor before she kissed him, but she shows by kissing him that she is somehow capable of creating a vision of happiness for herself. Do you see any characteristics in Janie in this scene that show how different she is from Nanny or other female characters you have met in the story so far?
1. What does this chapter show about Janie’s inside qualities? How does she respond to the challenge of going through with something (marrying Logan Killicks) that she is instinctively opposed to?
2. What specific language in this chapter shows how Janie’s heart and mind are based in nature? What values come from her perspective?
3. Choose two or three examples of language or imagery from this chapter that you particularly like and say how you respond to it.
1. Contrast Logan Killicks and the first impressions of Joe Starks that are presented in this chapter.
- How are they different in their values and their dreams?
- How are they similar?
2. Do you think it’s fair for Logan Killicks to ask Janie to load wood inside? Should a wife pull the same weight as her husband on a remote farm like the one Janie lived on?
1. What is Joe Stark’s method of gaining power? Janie comments at one point that he is “kind of portly like rich white folks.” What do you think of Joe’s attitude towards his fellow blacks? Is it anything like the attitude of whites towards blacks?
2. How is the porch in this chapter a representation of community? Identify all the things that happen on Joe’s porch. How does the porch give everyone a sense of ownership?
1. What is the parallel between Matt Bonner’s yellow mule and Janie? (See Chapter 1, where Nanny tells Janie that the “nigger woman is the de mule uh de world”).
- How does Janie identify with the mule?
- How does Joe exploit the mule, even though he makes an appearance of caring for it?
2. How does the author rely on nature (as the buzzards) to express the anger Janie feels? How do you interpret the buzzards’ response to the Parson’s question (they answer “fat” when the Parson asks them what killed the mule)?
3. How is the connection between the once-starved mule and women reinforced in the vignette (little story) about Mrs. Tony Robbins? How does the incident with Mrs. Robbins inspire Janie to break her silence and compliance and use her voice?