Jody and Janie arrive in the Florida town to find that it consists of little more than a dozen shacks. Jody introduces himself to two men, Lee Coker and Amos Hicks, and asks to see the mayor; the men reply that there is none. Jody moves over to a porch to chat with a group of the townspeople, who tell him that the town’s name is Eatonville. After hearing that Eatonville contains only fifty acres, Jody makes a big show of paying cash for an additional two hundred acres from Captain Eaton, one of the donors of Eatonville’s existing land. Hicks stays behind to flirt—unsuccessfully—with Janie. Later, Coker teases Hicks because all the other men know that they can’t lure a woman like Janie away from an ambitious, powerful, moneyed man like Jody.
After buying the land, Jody announces his plans to build a store and a post office and calls a town meeting. A man named Tony Taylor is technically chairman of the assembly, but Jody does all the talking. Jody hires Coker and Taylor to build his store while the rest of the town clears roads and recruits new residents. Jody soon recovers the cost of the new land by selling lots to newcomers and opens a store. At his store, Jody is quickly named mayor, and for the occasion Taylor asks Janie to give a short speech. Jody prevents her from doing so, saying that wives shouldn’t make speeches. His opinion angers Janie, but she remains silent.
After becoming mayor, Jody decides that the town needs a street lamp. He buys the lamp with his own money and then calls a town meeting to vote on whether or not the town should install it. Though some dissent, a majority vote approves the motion. After the lamp arrives, Jody puts it on display for a week, and it becomes a source of pride for the whole town. He organizes a big gathering for the lighting, complete with guests from surrounding areas and a feast. The party is a huge success, full of ceremony and dignity. Afterward, Janie hints that she wants to spend more time with Jody now that he has done so much work. He replies that he is just getting started.
After a while, Jody and the rest of the town start to grow apart from each other, and Janie, as the mayor’s wife, becomes the object of both respect and jealousy. The townspeople envy Jody’s elaborate new two-story house that makes the rest of the houses look like servants’ quarters. Jody buys spittoons for both himself and Janie, making them both seem like aristocrats flaunting their wealth and station. Furthermore, Jody runs a man named Henry Pitts out of town when he catches Henry stealing some of his ribbon cane. The townspeople wonder how Janie gets along with such a domineering man; after all, they note, she has such beautiful hair, but he makes her tie it up in a rag when she is working in the store. Though Jody’s wealth and authority arouse the envy and animosity of some residents, no one challenges him.
This chapter explores the masculine power that Jody Starks embodies. His political and economic conquest of the town recalls the opening passage of the book about “Ships at a distance.” Jody is one of the few characters whose ship does come in, but his success is more of a curse than a blessing. His flaunting of his wealth and power alienates the townspeople. He appears to them as a darker version of the white master whom they thought they had escaped. His megalomania extends beyond social superiority to a need to play god, as the lamp-lighting ceremony demonstrates. His words at the end of his speech, “let it shine, let it shine, let it shine,” refer to a gospel hymn about Jesus as the Light of the World. Jody wants his light, the light that he bought, built, and put in place, to stand for the sun and, by extension, God himself. These words also hearken back to the Bible’s account of creation, in which God says, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). Jody’s money and ambition give him power over the rest of the town, and he exploits this advantage to position himself as superior to the rest of the town. Such hubris, or presumptuousness, situates Jody in a classical scheme as one bound to fall.
Janie experiences the brunt of Jody’s domineering nature. Jody never accepts Janie for what she is; instead, he tries to shape her into his image of the type of woman that he wants. She gets her first taste of his need to control her when he prevents her from making a speech after he is named mayor. Here, in particular, control is intertwined with language and speech: to allow Janie to speak would be to allow her to assert her identity in her own words. Forcing Janie to hide her hair is another way that Jody tries to control her. As hinted in Chapter 1, Janie’s hair is an essential aspect of her identity and speaks to the strength of her person. Her hair’s straightness signifies whiteness and therefore marks her as different from the rest of her community (and even marks her parents as deviant). Furthermore, its beauty and sensuousness denote the sexual nature of her being. Jody, in order to achieve complete control over Janie, must suppress this sexuality. Because he doesn’t want her to inspire lust in other men and is “skeered some de rest of us mens might touch it round dat store,” he orders her to wear her hair up in rags. Another man’s interest in Janie would challenge or insult his authority.