Their Eyes Were Watching God

by: Zora Neale Hurston

Language

1

These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long…. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone…. They became lords of sounds and lesser things.

The narrator reveals that the sitters— the group of people chatting on the Watsons’ porch after the work day is over—relish in flexing the only power they have: the power of language. While the sitters enjoy using the power of language, they often do so at the expense of others’ feelings.

2

Janie took the easy way away from a fuss. She didn’t change her mind but she agreed with her mouth. Her heart said, “Even so, but you don’t have to cry about it.”

Janie decides that the words she says do not need to be truly meaningful. She can say words that she does not mean, in the interests of getting along with her husband. Janie realizes that she can use words to make others feel good, but those same words don’t need to affect her inner beliefs. Utilizing language this way reflects Janie’s survival technique: She separates her inner self from the self that she presents to the rest of the world.

3

They were there with their tongues cocked and loaded, the only real weapon left to weak folks. The only killing tool they are allowed to use in the presence of white folks.

The narrator explains why Janie’s neighbors have gathered in the courtroom as Janie stands trial for killing Tea Cake: They want to use the only weapon they have, their voices, and testify against her. The neighbors believe Janie killed Tea Cake on purpose, not understanding the true circumstances surrounding his disease. However, the neighbors, already limited in the power they wield in the world, were barred from using their voices even in a court of law. Had they been allowed to testify, the neighbors’ words might have been “a killing tool” against Janie.

4

Dem meatskins is got tuh rattle tuh make out they’s alive. Let ‘em consolate theyselves with talk. ‘Course, talkin’ don’t amount tuh uh hill uh beans when yuh can’t do nothin’ else.

Janie enjoys listening to her neighbors talk on the store’s porch and resents her husband when he limits her exposure to the chatter. But after leaving town and experiencing life with Tea Cake, she is no longer as impressed by words alone. She learns that actions are more important than words, and words are just a poor consolation for those who “can’t do nothin’ else.”