What was Janie's heritage in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston? How is she affected by the experiences of her mother and grandmother?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Janie Crawford Killicks Starks Woods is the protagonist of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. 

Nanny Crawford was Janie's grandmother. She was originally a domestic slave, who was was raped by her owner, a white man whose wife became jealous of her and was plotting to have her child sold and her murdered. She ran away with her young mixed-race child Leafy just before the end of the Civil War. Because of her early life as a slave, and the experience in particular of black women's vulnerability, including the possibility of rape by white men, Nanny's primary goal is to find a secure and protected environment for Janie. Thus she places Janie in a loveless marriage at a young age because it appears to offer security from rape, poverty and violence. 

Leafy Crawford, Janie's mother, has the blonde hair and grey eyes of her father. When Leafy is in high school, she is raped by her teacher and bears Janie; thus both Leafy and Janie are children of rape. The stress of the rape causes Leafy to become an alcoholic and run away from home, leaving Nanny to raise Janie. Although Nanny's strictness is a product of very real and traumatic experiences of the hazards of life for young black women, Janie, as most teenagers, is unhappy with the way this restricts her own choices. 

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