Chapter Five Summary:
Janie and Joe take the train from Maitland to Eatonville. When they arrive in Eatonville, both are disappointed with the town. Joe demands to talk to the mayor, but one of the men tells him that there is no mayor. Joe tells Coker that he thinks that the town is too small and that he will buy land from Captain Eaton, the gentleman that owns the neighboring land. Joe calls a meeting on his porch the next day to discuss his desire to build a post office and put up a store. The townspeople agree that building a store is a good idea. Very quickly, Joe earns back all the money he invested in building the store by selling land to people who want to move to the town.
Joe holds another meeting where he announces that Eatonville must have a mayor. Tony declares that Joe should be the mayor. The crowd shouts that they would like to hear Janie speak after Joe is elected, but Joe takes the podium instead of her, saying that Janie should not speak; she is a woman and her place is in the home. Janie is upset but makes herself smile because it is proper to do so. The next day Joe asks the town to vote on a street lamp; a majority votes for it and Joe buys the lamp from Sears. In order to make first lamplighting a real event, Joe arranges a large barbecue and party which is attended by people from miles around.
When the event is over and Janie and Joe are preparing to sleep, Janie tells Joe that his service to the town is putting a strain on their relationship. Joe says that he has always wanted a big voice in the world's affairs, and becoming mayor has helped him find it. He tells Janie that she can become a big woman by relying on his good position. Joe intimidates most people in the town. His house is built with banisters and porches and is painted a "gloaty" sparkling white. He places spittoons near his desk, one for Janie and one for himself. Janie feels isolated because her position as the mayor's wife distances her from the other women in town.
One day, a fellow in the town named Henry Pitts steals a wagon of sugar cane from Jody; Jody catches him and makes him leave town. Many of the townspeople are angry about the severity of Joe's reaction, and they start gossiping about him on his own porch. Despite their anger at Joe, all of the townspeople sympathize with Janie because they know that she must take the brunt of Joe's stubbornness. Joe forces his wife to keep her beautiful hair tied up, and does not allow Janie to talk much.
The beginning of chapter five is similar to chapter four. Both begin with the fact that neither Joe Starks nor Logan Killicks speak in rhymes to Janie. This similarity foreshadows Janie's dissatisfaction with her relationship with Joe. Janie's problems with her first relationship are repeating themselves in her second.
This chapter is noteable for its commentary on white society through criticisms of Joe. Joe attained his power by acting white, by taking power from others. Janie observes that he is "kind of portly like rich white folks." In a later chapter, a townsperson comments that when Joe talks "it's like he has a switch in his hand." Joe has attained the power he has always desired, he has done so through the mistreatment of his fellow townspeople and of his wife. Many readers have criticized Hurston because they argue that she believes that the only way for blacks to achieve financial success is to behave like whites (as Joe does). But Hurston shows that this method of self empowerment by subjugating others is destructive to Janie and other members of the community.
Another symbol that reoccurs in this chapter is the porch, which stands for community and is the forum for all large discussions. It is on the porch where Joe first calls a town meeting, where he is elected mayor, and where he calls the vote for the land. Ironically, the community meets on Joe's own porch when it wishes to discuss its dissatisfaction with Joe. Thus, although the porch is associated with Joe, it belongs to the community.
Chapter Six Summary:
The people of Eatonville love to pass the time telling stories on the porch. One of their favorite topics is Matt Bonner's yellow mule. Lige Moss, Sam Watson, and Walter love to tease Matt for never feeding the mule and for working the mule too hard. Janie loves listening to the stories about the mule; sometimes she has her own funny comments to make but Joe forbids her from joining the conversation. Janie realizes that Joe loves to order her around. She hates the fact that he forces her to work in the store all day, forces her to tie her hair up, and becomes insanely jealous when other men look at her. One day, Matt Bonner's mule disappears. When the mule finally shows up in the center of town, the men who sit on the porch begin to torture it. First, Lum tackles the mule, then five or six other men begin to torment it. Janie feels bad for the mule; she wants to help it but doesn't want to get in trouble with Joe for speaking out. Joe hears her muttering words of sorrow under her breath and decides to do a noble thing. He pays five dollars for the ownership of the mule so that he can protect it from any further damage. Janie makes a little speech commending Joe for his noble actions and comparing him to Lincoln. The men of the community say that Janie is a brilliant orator. Joe, as usual, says nothing. He would rather that Janie had not spoken at all.
The mule becomes famous as the town's first freed animal, and it wanders about the town getting fat until it dies. There is a funeral for the mule at the swamp outside of town. Janie wants to attend, but Joe forbids her.
The funeral is a mocking-serious ceremony. In fact, Joe even stands on top of the body of the mule as he gives a speech claiming how wonderful the mule was. After they leave the mule to rot, buzzards swoop in and begin to devour it.
Back on the porch, Sam and Lige engage in "contests of hyberbole." They have a ridiculous debate over what protects people from hurting themselves: caution or nature. In effect, Sam wins the debate by arguing that nature creates caution. Nature creates everything. Thus, nature protects people from hurting themselves.
As the debate is ending, some of the town's women including a beautiful girl, Daisy, approach the porch. The men and the women talk to each other flirtatiously. Janie loves listening to the conversation but Joe ruins tbe moment for her by forcing her to go back into the store to sell something. Soon, another customer wants to buy a pickled pig's foot. Joe looks for the pig's feet and does not find any. It appears that they have sold out. Janie is certain that a new shipment of pigs' feet had come in the day before, but she cannot find the receipt for yesterday's shipment. Joe chastises her for being careless, saying: "Somebody got to think for women and children and chickens and cows."
Janie and Joe's relationship continues to deteriorate. One day, he slaps her face for preparing a bad meal. Janie recovers from the slap by putting on a new dress and going back to the store. Mrs. Robbins is there, begging for a little piece of meat for her children. She tells Joe that her husband never feeds her. Neither Joe nor the men on the porch feel any sympathy for the woman. They criticize her for making her husband look like a bad man. After Mrs. Robbins begs for a long time, Joe gives her a tiny piece of meat.
After she has left, the men begin to rebuke her. Walter Thomas says that he would have killed Mrs. Robbins had she been his wife. Janie finally enters the conversation saying that God talks to women. He has told her that men will someday learn that they do not know as much about women as they think they do.
This chapter is one of the most important chapters of the novel. The first half of the chapter is about Matt Bonner's yellow mule. There is a strong parallel between the mule and Janie. Recall that Nanny warns Janie in the first chapter that the "nigger woman is de mule uh de world." Janie is the first person to be angered by the porchsitters' baiting of the mule; she identifies with the mule's struggle. Although it seems as though Joe cares for the mule because he pays five dollars to protect it, it becomes clear that he is only exploiting the mule for further self-aggrandizement. He literally uses its carcass as a platform for the "great eulogy" that he performs. Joe prevents Janie from attending the funeral, so no one is there to speak out against the mule's desecration.
Nature, in the form of buzzards, is able to articulate Janie's rage, and speak for the mule. The chief buzzard is seems like a religious figure; Hurston refers to him as the Parson. When the Parson asks what killed the mule, the other buzzard's answer "fat." The reader could interpret this reply as meaning that Joe killed the mule by freeing it because it was fed too much too suddenly.
The connection between the formerly starved mule and women is repeated by the author twice in the chapter. A few pages later, Joe baits Mrs. Robbins as if she were a mule who was starving for food. She screams, "Tony don't fee-eed me." After Mrs. Robbins leaves, the men speak about her disrespectully, as if she were an animal. Although Janie does not speak when Matt Bonner's mule is mistreated, she finally "thrusts into the conversation" when she sees a real woman being treated like a mule. She explains her faith that God and Nature will watch over women and protect them from misogny.
The symbol of the porch becomes fully personified in this chapter. Hurston claims that "the porch laughs", and that "the porch boils [in anger]." This literary device is used to point out the fact that there are no independent thinkers among the men on the porch. They all act with one consciousness, one set of beliefs, and no one is willing to act differently from the rest.
After the most shocking moment in the chapter, Hurston uses understatement to underline Joe's violence. When her husband beats Janie after she cooks a bad meal, she expresses no anger, hatred, or disgust. "Janie stood where he left her for [some] time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her..." The fact that she feels so little rage makes the reader feel for Janie even more. The passage where Joe slaps Janie ends on an optimistic note: "She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen." This foreshadows the fact that Janie will meet another, better man.
Chapter Seven Summary:
Eleven years pass and Janie learns to stop fighting. Some days she considers running away from Joe just as she ran away from Logan years ago. But Janie fears that she is too old to run away. Janie realizes that Joe has become very old, and that he has become more abusive to her than ever before. He constantly criticizes her for being old and ugly, hoping that by pointing out her flaws, he can distract others from noticing his own age and frailty.
One afternoon, a customer named Steve Mixon wants some chewing tobacco. Janie tries to cut it, but makes a mistake. Joe recuts the tobacoo and then begins to insult Janie terribly. For the first time, Janie retaliates. She tells Joe that he is nothing but a big voice; she tells the people in the store that when he pulls his pants down that there is nothing there. Joe is irrecoverably crushed, his manliness stripped away.
This chapter marks a turning point in Janie's character development. She learns how to stand up to Joe and uses her voice to overpower his. There are several biblical references in the chapter which indicate the importance of religion to black culture at this time. Janie is described by Joe as "older than Methusalem." Janie's speaking out against Joe is like "the thing that Saul's daughter had done to David." The characters are not strongly religious; rather, the stories of the Christian tradition are firmly embedded in black folk culture, and their narratives are more important than a belief in them.
Rather than organized religion, it is nature that fortifies and empowers Janie. She is able to split her mind and see "the shadow of herself tending store and prostrating itself before Jody" while her true self "sits under a shady tree with the wind blowing through her hair and clothes." When she is finally able to keep part of her mind centered on nature, she becomes strong enough to stand up to Joe.
Chapter Eight Summary:
Joe's health deteriorates quickly. He begins to spend a lot of time with a root doctor, instead of relying on a real doctor. Janie worries that Joe is not eating enough, but then she finds out that Mrs. Davis is cooking for him. Janie recognizes that she is a better cook than Mrs. Davis and tries to prepare a soup for Joe. He refuses the soup, indicating that he believes she may be trying poison him or trying to hurt him with Voodoo magic.
Jody becomes very ill and takes to a sick bed permanently; he refuses to allow Janie to visit him. Other people from the town parade into the house, claiming that Joe doesn't have anyone to take care of him because Janie is so inconsiderate.
Finally, Joe Watson tells Janie that Joe is about to die. His kidneys have failed. Janie begins to think about death: she pictures a square-toed man from the West who lives in a house with no roof. She asks Sam if it would be all right to visit Joe, but Joe refuses.
Janie realizes that she must speak to Joe, no matter what. Janie walks into Joe's room and sees him looking as though he's waiting for something. She begins with an apology for not being the "perfect" wife. Joe still blames her for being unsympathetic, but Janie explains that she was never allowed to be sympathetic because Joe controlled her too much. Nonetheless, Janie wants to talk to Joe before it is "too late." Joe does not want to accept that he could die soon. Janie tells Joe that "not listening" has been the main problem of Joe's life: he has been so busy listening to himself that he has never listened to her. Joe tells her to get out, but Janie gets in the last word. She tells Joe that she did not leave Logan and "come down the road" with him to lead a life of "bowing down" and obedience. Joe breathes his last painful breath and dies.
Janie puts his hands on his chest, then walks to the mirror to look for the young girl that she had asked to wait for her in the mirror. She takes the handkerchief off her head and examines her beautiful hair. She then gathers her strength, composes herself, and calls to the other townspeople that her husband has died.
This chapter details how Janie is able to finally break free from the subjugation of her marriage and gain her freedom. Food is a reoccuring issue in this chapter. At the beginning of the chapter, Janie notices that Joe is not eating well, so she buys a beef bone and cooks him some nurturing soup. Joe refuses the soup, saying that another woman, "old lady Davis," had been cooking for him. He is afraid that Janie might poison him, so he stops eating what she has cooked. Food is a literal, as well as symbolic type of nurturing. By refusing Janie's food, Joe locks his wife's effort at nurturing him out of his soul.
Abstract, spiritual ideas like God and Death (which Hurston capitalizes and personifies) are made literal in this chapter through vivid imagery. Death is described as "that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West. The great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof. What need has Death for a cover, and what winds can blow against him? He stands in his high house that overlooks the world." This type of personification is the literary device that Hurston is most famous for.
The most vivid motif of the novel reappears in this chapter: Janie's hair. Throughout her marriage with Joe, Janie's hair had been tied, symbolically indicating her captivity in the marriage. When Joe dies, however, she immediately takes the rags off her head and lets her hair free.