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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, what does the word jooks mean?

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colem09662 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted March 12, 2013 at 8:30 PM via web

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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, what does the word jooks mean?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 13, 2013 at 6:06 PM (Answer #1)

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A folklorist and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston' Their Eyes Were Watching God is both an account of black heritage and her main character's journey to female individuality. In Chapter 14, for instance, as Janie travels to the Everglades of Florida with Tea Cake to seek work, she is exposed to another life that she has not known in Eatonville. 

In this historical setting depicted by Hurston, after working all week in the bean fields, the transient workers would pour into the "jook joints" (also spelled "juke joints")--sometimes called "barrelhouses"--where they could gather together and relax by dancing, singing, gambling, and drinking.  With the word jook derived from the Gullah word joog, these places were "private space" for the blacks where they could play their own music and dance their own dances.  As many as three musicians would play in these informal establishments built at crossroads; usually there was a fiddler and someone on the banjo, but later on, the guitar replaced the banjo.  Ragtime and boogie woogie music was prevalent at first; after 1917, what came to be know as Blues became a popular music at these roadhouses.

All night now the jooks clanged and clamored. Pianos live three liftimes in one.  Blues made and used right on the spot. Dancing, fighting, singing, crying, laughing, winning and loseing love every hour.  Work all day for money, fight all night for love. The rich black earth clinging to bodies and biting the skin like ants.

A musician himself, Tea Cake buys a guitar to replace the one he has sold in order to court Janie.  And, at night he plays and draws the workers to his house where they talk, gamble and tell their tall-tales. So popular does Tea Cake become and accomplished on his guitar that the others liken him to "Big John de Conquer" who could lure the angels with his guitar-playing.  Tea Cake, who the others say can "make us know it," is thus identified as one who can express the workers' emotions and desires, and they spend time with him rather than go to the jook that is the property of the landowner. Janie enjoys having people gather at her house, too, as she is allowed to join into the conversations and tell stories herself, developing her own individual identity.

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