Summary: Chapter 7
As the years pass, Janie grows more and more defeated. She silently submits to Jody’s imperious nature and performs her duties while ignoring her emotions. She considers running away but doubts that she can find refuge anywhere, feeling that she has grown unattractive. She feels her spirit detach from her body; she watches herself work at the store and submit to Jody while her mind is really elsewhere. This detachment allows her to accept stoically a life that she has grown to hate.
One day, Janie notices that Jody has begun to look quite old. He has trouble moving around and his body bulges and sags. Jody, too, seems aware of this physical change, and he pesters Janie about her age and appearance, attempting to get her to worry about her own appearance and ignore his. But Janie sees through his ploy. She realizes how ugly and old he feels.
Jody keeps deteriorating and, as a result, his verbal attacks become more vicious and frequent. One day, Janie makes a clumsy mistake while cutting a plug of tobacco for a customer. Jody begins berating her in front of the store crowd, not only mocking her incompetence but also insulting her looks. Janie finally releases her pent-up aggression. She insults his sagging body and declares that he looks like “de change uh life” when naked. The force of the insult stuns the men on the porch. Jody feels impotent, his reputation in the town diminished and his power vanishing. He lashes out in a blind rage, fiercely hitting Janie and driving her from the store.
Summary: Chapter 8
After the confrontation, Jody moves into another room in the house. His health continues to deteriorate and he grows desperate, consulting with quacks who promise miracle cures. He avoids contact with Janie and stops eating her cooking. Janie learns from Pheoby that there is a rumor around town that Janie is trying to poison Jody for revenge. Nevertheless, Janie sends for a real doctor from Orlando. The doctor examines Jody and determines that his kidneys have stopped working and that he will soon die.
Janie begins to pity Jody and wants to see him one last time. Jody refuses, but Janie decides that it will soon be too late, so she enters his room. He is cold and distant, and their conversation quickly deteriorates into an argument. He says that she never appreciated all that he did for her; she responds that he never let her express her emotions. She then tells him that he is dying and Jody finally realizes the truth. He breaks down, releases one long, anguished sob, and begs Janie not to tell him such things. Nevertheless, she berates him, accusing him of tyranny and egotism. She adds that he was always trying to change her and was never satisfied with who she really was.
Jody pleads with Janie to stop but she continues. She sees that he is struggling with death and is filled with pity. He dies, and she thinks about all the time that has passed since she met him. She looks in a mirror and sees that she has aged but is still beautiful. She rips off her head-rag, freeing her imprisoned hair, but then realizes that she must appear to be mourning. She ties it back up, assumes a mask of sadness, and yells out the window that Jody has died.
Analysis: Chapters 7–8
These two chapters focus on the disintegration of Jody and Janie’s marriage, culminating in Jody’s death. Janie’s interest in the marriage has already waned by this point. She loses hope when it becomes clear that her relationship to Jody will not help her realize her dreams. Jody, on the other hand, loses everything, including the will to live, as soon as he loses the ability to exert control. Despite their obvious differences, Jody and Janie’s situations are, in a way, similar. Both realize that they have constructed lives that have not delivered the fulfillment that they expected. But Janie is able to survive her disillusionment and, by the end of Chapter 8, has begun to once again head in the direction of her dreams. Jody, however, doesn’t survive; in part, his destruction results from Janie’s reassertion of herself.
In Chapter 6 we see how intimately Jody’s control is related to language. He uses language to belittle Janie while at the same time forcing her to remain silent. The one-sidedness of this dynamic is the only real tool left with which Jody can preserve the imbalance of power in his relationship with Janie. Jody tries to use his control of discourse to compensate for his physical deterioration and ultimate inability to control the world. His insults attempt to reshape the world around him by incorrectly describing Janie’s appearance while ignoring his own.
Janie’s two outbursts further underscore the importance of language. When she speaks, she asserts herself and her own power; this assertion, of course, deeply troubles Jody. Janie’s sharp retort in Chapter 7 about Jody’s feebleness completely shatters Jody’s misconceptions about the extent of his power: he is “robbed . . . of his illusion of irresistible maleness.” Janie has reversed their situations. Earlier, Jody prevents her from speaking and asserting her identity; now, he himself is left without a voice: “Joe Starks didn’t know the words for all this, but he knew the feeling.” Stung by words, shown the limitations of his power, and robbed of his ability to speak, Jody breaks down. He resorts to physical violence—a display of beastliness—because his lofty aura has dissipated completely.
Jody’s disintegration is completed in Chapter 8, and, once again, he is undone by the power of Janie’s speech. She finally lashes out at him in full, expressing her feelings and criticizing his faults. Janie compromises the source of Jody’s power—his assumed superiority—rendering him impotent and weak. It is no coincidence that he dies as Janie finishes her scolding speech.
Janie’s first act of liberation after Jody’s death is to release her hair from the shackles of the head-rag. She reasserts her identity as beautiful and arousing woman—an identity that Jody had denied her by trying to suppress her sex appeal and making comments about her aging appearance. Her braid again functions as a phallic symbol, representing her potency and strength. Jody had kept Janie’s power tied up, but now she is free and can release it. But Janie’s act of tying her hair back up demonstrates that she understands that the community will judge her if she appears so carefree; unlike Jody, who exerts his authority without regard for others, Janie wields her power with restraint.