Their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston Summary and Analysis Chapter 8

Summary

Joe and Janie's meaningless marriage is now shattered. Joe moves out of their bedroom, and as his illness progresses, he refuses to let Janie take care of him. He also stubbornly refuses to see a medical doctor, preferring instead to seek cures from quacks and charlatans. Janie, who doesn't want to give up the custodial responsibilities of a wife, finally gets a doctor, but it's too late. Joe's kidneys have failed, and he is a doomed man.

Although Joe has barred her from his sickroom, Janie goes to his bedside and tells the dying man some of the things that should have been said a long time ago. Joe is terrified at the thought of his impending death. In spite of the sincerity of Janie's pleas that he should realize their marriage did not bring them the happiness they both desired when they took that train to Eatonville, Joe dies unrepentant, and Janie looks on with pity for her dead husband.

Analysis

Even as Joe is dying, he still tries to exert his control over Janie. He bans her from his sickroom and refuses to allow Janie to care for him. Joe does not desire Janie's pity; he wants Janie to feel guilty for standing up to him in front of the townspeople even though it was years ago. Janie, however, will not allow Joe to manipulate her even as he is dying.

Again, Janie stands up to Joe. After entering Joe's room, she refuses to leave, even when he demands that she do so. Janie insists that the man she ran away with 20 years ago is gone, and Joe is "whut's left after he died."

Joe has never been able to accept Janie for who she truly is. His refusal has been the basis for their marital troubles. Joe forbid Janie to speak for herself and to be her own person. He wanted Janie to be the woman that he wanted her to be. For several years, Janie kept her feelings to herself and obeyed Joe. On two occasions, in the store and as Joe is dying, she exerts her independence by standing up for herself.

Also in Chapter 8, Hurston employs a metaphor for death. Death, according to Janie, is "a strange being" with a sword "waiting for the messenger to bid him come." Hurston uses this powerful metaphor to show that Joe feared death and would only die when "the icy sword of the square-toed one had cut off his breath and left his hands in a pose of antagonizing protest."

Glossary

Well, if she must eat out of a long-handled spoon, she must A long-handled spoon has a long history in the English language. Chaucer uses it in The Squire's Tale: "Therfore bihooeth hire ful loong spoon/That shall ete with a feend." It also occurs in Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors: "He must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil." Joe has become almost evil in his illness, and Janie must treat him with all caution — with a long-handled spoon, something that she would use if she were to dine with the devil. References to a long-handled spoon are treated in most standard books of quotations.

de big fuss in de store dat Joe was 'fixed' and you wuz de one dat did it Here again, the busybodies are at work, suggesting that Janie has put some sort of spell on Joe. Joe is terminally ill, and the people do not understand the illness. It is much easier for them to accuse Janie of putting a voodoo spell on Joe to hasten his death than it is for them to understand that Joe's condition is helpless.

Ah been feelin' dat somethin' set for still-bait In other words, she is saying that she's feeling like she's the target of the community disapproval, like a bait on a hook that can't move or wriggle as a worm might do.

Last summer dat multiplied cock-roach wuz round heah tryin' tuh sell gophers Janie and Pheoby have no time for the charlatan, the "two-headed" doctor, the scheming, self-serving quack. Note the hyperbole "multiplied cock-roach." Note also that "gopher" could be a mispronunciation of "goopher," a well-known conjure mixture. It is usually an herb-root mixture alleged to have great power to do whatever the two-headed doctor said it would do.

He'd be all right just as soon as the two-headed man found what had been buried against him Hurston discusses this phrase of conjure in Mules and Men. If indeed Janie has "fixed" Joe, then the conjure man has to find out what the "fix" is and where it is buried. His next task would be to concoct something that would counteract the "fix." All of this was done for a fee, of course, preferably paid in advance.

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