Type: Process Essays
Sample donated: Jenny Graham
Last updated: May 24, 2019
In the novels, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, the authors choose to exhibit the theme of acquiescent wives. Stella, from A Streetcar Named Desire, and Janie, from Their Eyes Were Watching God, are both subject to disrespectful treatment by their husbands. During the 1930s-1940s, it’s viewed as abnormal and looked down on to separate from one’s spouse. Janie however breaks this stereotype, marrying three different men; while Stella tries to keep her dying relationship alive.
Throughout the novels, Janie and Stella display a constant submissive behavior whenever told to do something, even when being abused physically or mentally by their spouse. Despite the various times Stanley beats Stella, her love for Stanley is blinding as she doesn’t mind his temper and considers it as passion; while Janie acts submissive to Joe, to avoid both his physical and verbal abuse. Although Stella and Janie’s voice throughout both novels are quite passive, Janie advocates more for herself than Stella. Initially Janie was raised in a impecunious African American household by her grandmother. She was taught from a young age that marriage equals love and that women depend on men for financial security. Janie wanted a love “sweet…lak when you sit under a pear tree” (29) but instead receives Logan, a man who wants her to “chop and tote wood” and calls her “spoilt rotten.” (31) Janie was stuck to succumb to these expectations when she was with Logan.
However, Janie’s second marriage begins with a personal choice that Janie makes to leave Logan and follow Jody, a man whose plan was to build “a town all outa colored folks” and become a leader in the new city. Just the fact that she left her first husband was a very bold move, but the profound point is that Janie chooses to get together with another man. Janie expresses her true feelings and voice by leaving Logan and telling him that he “ain’t done her no favor by marryin’ her.” This displays that Janie’s views on marital expectations have took a turn and she will no longer be put under this illusion of a perfect woman during this time period. However this newly acquired confidence that Janie had gained quickly falls to shambles when she realizes that she must now play a new role if she wants to marry Jody, the mayor, which means high society status requires acquiescence. Throughout the years living with Jody, she must be kept with her hair tied up and her mouth pinned shut. If she happens to slip up, that could affect the way the entire community views her and her husband. Nevertheless, Janie finally speaks up in chapter seven when Jody begins to attack her appearance in public and Janie “robbed him of the illusion of irresistible maleness” by telling him that he looked like “de change uh life” instead of keeping her mouth shut.
It is at this point that Janie rejects social norms once again and speaks “carelessly” to her husband instead of remaining in silence. The irony in this event is that it did not seem shocking that Jody would call out his wife in public, but to have a wife call out her husband was scandalous and clearly against social norms in this scene. This suggests that the oppression that Janie is under as a woman has implications in regards to how she speaks even to her own husband and that her place in society is expected to be a silenced one. Janie truly begins to reveal her voice once Jody dies and she then releases her hair from being tied up and then states that “mourning oughtn’t tuh last no longer n’grief” (113). This suggests that she is no longer entitled to the opinions of the townspeople in relation to her behavior as a mayor’s wife, and she intends to live her life without the pressure of society’s judgment against her.
It also symbolizes that she is in control; she gets to decide when her hair is up or not, not a man in her life. Janie chooses to express her new freedom and inheritance left from Jody by marrying a poor man and moving away from town. The final scene in which Janie really finds her voice is when her new husband, Tea Cake, is sick and threatens her life with a pistol when he is not in his right state of mind. Janie could have been shot by Tea Cake since she knew that he had a “pistol under the pillow” (222) and gone down with him.
However, she chooses her own life and instead follows through with the most heinous act possible, in the eyes of society, by shooting her husband when he threatens her life. This intentional choice of Janie’s to choose her own life over defining her life by her husband’s fate is the final choice in Janie’s process of finding her voice and defying social norms. On the other hand, Stella was born into a white privileged household where most in life was given to her. However she was brought up with the same societal views about a woman’s role as Janie. Stella married an unstable and aggressive man, Stanley. Even with Stanley’s abuse, Stella puts up her blinders and claims that her relationship is “Not something she wants to get out of.
” This sheds light to the ignorance that Stella withholds. Stella only gains courage to speak up for herself when others are in the same room, however she turns a blind eye to anything and everything that may contradict the way she says she feels. On page 116, Stella comments “Don’t holler at me like that.
Hi, Mitch” This sudden change in tone suggests that she wants to show that she is a strong character, however the fact that Stanley has thrown a chunk of meat at her indicates how she has no control in their relationship. She is a submissive character who always ends up following whatever Stanley wants her to do as she chases after Stanley. Stella’s voice is centered around the recurring and common physical and mental abuse she endures and her voice is completely shut out by Stanley because of her weak personality. Stella is a conformist who allows herself to be constantly oppressed by society in many ways, such as tolerating domestic violence/insulting gestures and allowing Stanley to make her feel inferior, shutting out any help her sister tries to give, and conforming to society’s expectations by staying in a bubble and playing the role of a stereotypical housewife. Whereas Janie knows herself and her self-worth, even though it took a few failed marriages for her to discover it. She knows that she is no longer going to silenced by any man or woman because of her new found voice; and if she is silent, then it is only her choice. The authors express Stella and Janie’s voice in very passive and similar ways in both novels, however resulting in a different outcome at the end of both literature works.
Zora Neale Hurston, an African American woman from the early 1900s, expresses her feelings of the roles of women and African Americans through Janie’s voice. She expresses that woman of color have gone through a hard time throughout history trying to find their voice, as it has constantly been silenced, however their mind and heart will lead them to find their true selves. Then, Tennessee Williams, a white male also born in the early 1900s, writes about how men dominate weak women, like Stella. Williams demonstrates how women were viewed during this time period, as weak, submissive, and easily drawn in by desire and passion. In the end, both of of these literary works express how society has put up these gender roles for women and inevitably demeans and belittles women by the words and actions of their husbands through Stella (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Janie’s (Their Eyes Were Watching God) voice.