Their Eyes Were Watching God

by: Zora Neale Hurston

Nanny Crawford

“‘Taint Logan Killicks Ah wants you to have, baby, it’s protection. Ah ain’t getting’ ole, honey. Ah’m done ole. One mornin’ soon, de angel wid de sword is gointuh stop by here.… Ah ast de Lawd when you was uh infant in mah arms to let me stay here till you got grown…. Mah daily prayer now is to let dese golden moments rolls on a few days longer til Ah see you safe in life.”

Nanny Crawford, Janie’s grandmother, tells Janie she is concerned for her safety. She has devoted her life to protecting Janie and now believes she does not have much time left. Nanny is Janie’s only parental figure. Janie, the result of her mother’s rape at age seventeen, was raised by Nanny as her mother was emotionally unable to do so. Nanny’s fear for Janie is thus understandable.

“Ah knowed mah body wasn’t healed, but Ah couldn’t consider dat. In de black dark Ah wrapped mah baby de best Ah knowed how and made it to de swamp by de river. Ah knowed the place was full uh moccasins and other bitin’ snakes but Ah was more skeered uh what was behind me.”

Nanny is remembering the moment when, as a slave during the Civil War, she felt she needed to run away, even though she had just given birth to Janie’s mother a week earlier. Upon seeing that Nanny’s baby was half white, the plantation owner’s enraged wife threatened to give Nanny a severe beating and to sell the newborn away in a month. Nanny knew she had to run away or die trying.

“Ah can’t die easy thinkin’ maybe de menfolks white or black is makin’ a spit cup outa you. Have some sympathy fuh me. Put me down easy, Janie, Ah’m a cracked plate.”

In the beginning of the story, Nanny begs Janie to marry Logan Killicks. She knows Janie is reluctant, but Nanny’s first concern is Janie’s safety—specifically, her safety from predatory men. Nanny explains that she can only rest easy if Janie agrees to her wishes, appealing to Janie’s sympathy and concern for her to get what she wants. Janie gives in and marries Logan.

Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon—for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you—and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her grandmother’s neck tight enough to choke her. She hated the old woman who had twisted her so in the name of love.

Janie reflects back with anger and regret on the way Nanny’s fears and concerns ended up limiting Janie’s opportunities. First, she married Logan, in whom she was not interested at all. Then, she married Jody believing it was a path to something bigger. However, Janie now knows that her life with Jody will be equally limited. When younger, Janie wanted to see what was out there, beyond “the horizon,” but she never got to.

“She was borned in slavery time when folks, dat is black folks, didn’t sit down any time dey felt lak it. So sittin’ on porches lak de white madam looked lak uh mighty fine thing tuh her. Dat’s whut she wanted for me—don’t keer whut it cost. Get up on uh high chair and sit dere. She didn’t have time tuh think whut tuh do after you got up on the stool uh do nothin’.”

Here, Janie explains to Pheoby where Nanny’s priorities came from. At this point in her life, Janie seems to understand and accept why, being able to “do nothin’” was the ultimate dream Nanny could have for her granddaughter. Because she never experienced that luxury herself, Nanny wouldn’t know or care how a woman with nothing to do would feel.