Describe Nanny's Dream for her youth and her hopes for her daughter and granddaughter. What were the hardships and suffering that Nanny had to go through? What Images does Nanny use at the close of the chapter in her appeal to Janie to be sensitive to her vulnerability. Why is it an especially appropriate image for Nanny, as a caretaker for others?
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In Chapter Two, Janie begins telling the story of her life. She never knew her mother or her father, and was raised by her grandmother. Her grandmother worked as a nanny for white children in the Washburn family, and Janie grows up playing with the Washburn children. She calls her grandmother "Nanny" because that is what the other kids call her. Everyone calls Janie "Alphabet" because she goes by so many names. Janie does not know that she is black until a photograph of her is taken with the other children. Until the age of six, she thinks that she is white, and "the same as everyone else." When she goes to school, the other black children are jealous of Janie because she wears the Washburn children's hand-me-downs; these clothes are much nicer than what the other black children wear. Nanny does not like the fact that Janie is picked on by the other black children for living in the white family's backyard, so she asks the Washburns to help her buy some land and create a home of her own.
Janie loves to spend the afternoons lying under a pear tree, staring into the branches. One afternoon, she is mesmerized by the beauty of bees pollinating the pear blossoms. Janie feels intoxicated by the pollen and her newly awakened sexuality. She now sees Johnny Taylor, a boy she previously thought of as "shiftless" as a "glorious being." She walks to the gate and kisses him over the gatepost.
Nanny sees Janie kissing a boy and calls her inside. Nanny is convinced that Janie's kiss has brought her into womanhood. She slaps Janie for her indiscretion, and tells her that she must get married to Logan Killicks. Janie objects, saying that Logan is ugly and old. But Nanny repeats that Janie must get married to someone who will keep her safe and protected. Nanny reiterates that she just wants to protect Janie from the burden of being a black woman. Nanny narrates to Janie the terrible experiences that she has been through. She was a slave when she was younger and remembers the day that the men on her plantation all left to fight in the Civil War. As she lay with her newly born child, Leafy, the master of the plantation came into the house, pulled off the covers, and forced her to have sex with him for the last time before he left for war. After he left, the mistress of the plantation slapped Nanny many times because the baby looked partially white with its blonde hair and gray eyes. The mistress of the plantation knew that the master had been sleeping with Nanny and threatened to whip her until she bled to death and sell the baby into slavery when it was a month old. Nanny ran away from the plantation that night and named the baby Leafy because she hid her in the leafy moss. Luckily the war ended within a few months, and Nanny never had to be a slave again.
Nanny raised her baby (the woman who was to become Janie's mother) in the same place as she raised Janie: at the Washburns' house. She wanted Leafy to grow up and become a school teacher, but after Leafy was raped by her own school teacher at the age of seventeen she became pregnant with Janie. After her daughter was born, Leafy became an alcoholic and then ran away from home. Nanny's negative experiences make her determined to make life easy for her granddaughter. Nanny says, "Have some sympathy fuh me. Put me down easy Janie, Ah'm a cracked plate."