Their Eyes Were Watching God

by: Zora Neale Hurston

Race

1

“We’se uh mingled people and all of us got black kinfolks as well as yaller kinfolks.”

Here, Janie argues against Mrs. Turner’s racist belief in the inferiority of blacks. Mrs. Turner would prefer that “superior,” mixed race people, like herself and Janie, could be “classed off” from blacker people. Janie points out that because she and Mrs. Turner are of mixed race, their own relatives include both lighter- and darker-skinned people, revealing Mrs. Turner’s argument to be illogical. Mrs. Turner never responds to this argument.

2

Anyone who looked more white folkish than herself was better than she was in her criteria, therefore it was right they should be cruel to her at times…. Like the pecking order in a chicken yard.

Here, the narrator explains why Mrs. Turner accepts Janie’s snub: She views such behavior as correct. Mrs. Turner believes that black people are inferior, thus, she believes that Janie, as a lighter-skinned person than herself, has the right and even the responsibility to treat her poorly. Ironically, the reason Janie actually avoids Mrs. Turner is because of Mrs. Turner’s lack of respect for Janie’s husband, Tea Cake, a darker-skinned black man.

3

“They’s mighty particular how dese dead folks goes tuh judgement…. Look lak dey think God don’t know nothin’ ’bout de Jim Crow law.”

Tea Cake speaks these words while helping bury the dead after the hurricane. He notes that simple pine coffins are being provided for white corpses, but nothing for blacks. The burial crew was instructed to make very sure that no whites are accidentally buried with blacks, and vice versa. Tea Cake suggests that because the segregating Jim Crow law does not exist in heaven, the authorities feel they need to help God recognize who is black and who is white by providing outward signs.

4

“De ones de white man knows is nice colored folks. De ones he don’t know is bad niggers.”

After Janie makes this statement ruefully, Tea Cake agrees. They live in the city as the hurricane destroyed their home back in the ‘Glades. Here, Janie and Tea Cake are viewed and treated very differently than in their old life. Now, when Tea Cake encounters whites he is treated like a vagrant instead of like someone with money and a job. Both Tea Cake and Janie recognize that having cordial and trusting relationships with specific white people doesn’t change the fact that the default position of a white person towards a black person is suspicion and dislike.