The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Janie Crawford, the central character in the novel, is one of the strongest female figures in American literature. Unlike her counterparts in many of the African American novels influenced by European realism and naturalism, her quest is fulfilled and her desire is celebrated.
Janie’s idealism forms the core of the novel. She desires not only romantic love but also connection with the natural and folklife that surrounds her. Hurston vividly illustrates this motif with the image of the blossoming pear tree kissed by singing bees, which is Janie’s picture of romantic love. Hurston elaborates the point by providing Janie with three husbands, each of whom reflects a part of Janie’s character and demonstrates the perils of the quest she has undertaken.
Logan Killicks, Janie’s first husband, embodies the dangers of passivity and the search for security. Nanny Crawford’s choice for Janie’s husband, Logan is the type of new African American envisioned by Booker T. Washington. He is a perfectly safe and secure man, a relatively prosperous small farmer who works his land with a mule. When it appears to Janie that she is also expected to work like a mule, she moves out of the passive mode instilled in her by her grandmother and escapes with the romantic Joe Starks. Starks, however, represents another of the possible traps on Janie’s quest for self-fulfillment.
Starks originally appeals to Janie’s sense of adventure and romance...
(The entire section is 572 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Janie Crawford Killicks Starks Woods
Janie Crawford Killicks Starks Woods, the novel’s central character, a beautiful, romantic, and hopeful black woman who, over the course of thirty years and three marriages, grows into an attractive, life-affirming, and independent woman. As an adolescent, Janie imagines life and especially marriage as a blossoming pear tree kissed by singing bees. She has her first experience of sexual ecstacy under the pear tree in her grandmother’s backyard. Her first two marriages end in disappointment, but Tea Cake, her third husband, reminds her of a pear tree blossom in spring. Even after Janie kills Tea Cake in self-defense, he lives in her memory, associated with sunshine and life’s plenty.
Nanny Crawford, Janie’s grandmother, who rears Janie while keeping house for the white Washburn family. Born into slavery, Nanny flees a Georgia plantation when its white mistress, rightly suspecting Nanny to be her husband’s lover, threatens to kill her and sell her daughter Leafy (later Janie’s mother). Leafy is raped by her schoolteacher and leaves Janie to be reared by Nanny. Because experience has taught Nanny that “de nigger woman is de mule uh de world,” she forces Janie to marry for protection rather than love. Nanny dies a month after Janie’s first wedding, unforgiven by Janie.
Logan Killicks, Janie’s first...
(The entire section is 581 words.)