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Zora Neale Hurston's novel of self-discovery, Their Eyes Were Watching God, finds Janie Crawford returning to the town of Eatonville after having been acquitted of the charge of having killed her husband, Tea-Cake, who had shot at her in a crazed rage as a result of his having been bitten by a rabid dog. Still wearing the work overalls that she kept on even for Tea Cake's funeral, Janie walks the streets of her town without speaking to anyone and slams the gate to the house after her.
Her appearance in this town after some years awakens
...the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without master; walking altogether like harmony in a song.
Only Janie's friend Pheoby defends her, accusing the others,
"You mean, you mad 'cause she didn't stop and tell us all her business."
Clearly, as the narrator herself observes, "An envious heart makes a treacherous ear." Janie's beauty and her still youthful appearance make her a target of the criticism of the women who have long envied her as the wife of mayor Starks. In addition, they notice that their men look at Janie with lust. The women's judgment of Janie is based upon her appearance and her former position in the town, which they in truth have envied. Of course, being ignored by Janie as she walks the street furthers their spite.
In the other judgment regarding the trial of Janie after Tea Cake's death, there is also this envy of Janie's womanhood and beauty. This time it is the men who express this envy:
"Yeah, de nigger women kin kill up all de mens dey wants tuh, but you bet' not kill one uh dem. De white folks will hang yuh if yuh do."
"Well, you know whut dey say 'uh white man and uh nigger woman is de freest thing on earth.' Dey do as dey please."
The men feel resentment towards Janie because in their reasoning if a man had killed Tea Cake, he would have been found guilty by the all-white jury; self-defence would not have been a consideration in such a trial. While there is some validity to this judgment by the men as it would, indeed, have been difficult in the historical context of the novel for a man to get a fair trial, the judgment for Janie was fair. She simply defended herself against the crazed Tea Cake who fired three times with the empty chambers, and then the fourth time with a live bullet. Because he and Janie shot simultaneously, Tea Cake had every intention of killing her.
The judgment of the men in the Everglades is unfair, but based upon actual experiences; however, the judgment of the townspeople as Janie traverses the street is completely unfounded.
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