Illustration of the profile of Janine Crawford and another person facing each other

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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Who are the "sitters" referred to in this quote from Their Eyes Were Watching God?

"These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins."

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The sitters are quite simply the people of Eatonville sitting on the porch in the evening. Since most of them are laborers during the day, they have essentially been rendered "tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences." While under their boss's watch, they are powerless and voiceless—little more than the animals to which they are compared. When the work day is done, they return to the porches where their senses are restored. They are once again free to speak and judge.

When Janie walks into town after being away for years, she is taunted and objectified. Pheoby notes that the sitters feel the need to butt into the lives of everyone. This is perhaps because the sitters aren't really living and need information as a replacement for the excitement of living.

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These lines come from the opening of Zora Neale Hurston's seminal work, Their Eyes Were Watching God in which she often examines the repression of the blacks who live in bitterness, fear, or foolish dreams.  With the lines quoted, Hurston depicts the residents of Janie Crawford's home town who have spent lives working for someone else, whose hope has died in bitterness or desperation.  Working during the day at jobs that are back-breaking, unfulfilling, servile, and trivial, their spirits have been reduced to that of "mules and brutes."

When they come out onto their porches in the evening, a time which belongs to them alone rather than to their bosses, the residents of the town "become lords of sounds and lesser things."  Yet, at the same time, there are subject to their brute bitterness as Janie Crawford walks into town after years of having been away.Then "they made burning statements with questions and killing tools out of laughs" from their revived jealousy of the beautiful Janie.

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