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Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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In Their Eyes Were Watching God,what does Nanny mean when she says "ah'm a cracked plate?"

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In Chapter 2 of Their Eyes Were Watching Godthirteen-year-old Janie is seen by her grandmother as she kisses the tall and lean Johnny Taylor over the gate. Alarmed that Janie is becoming like the "blossoming pear tree" in the backyard, Nanny calls Janie to her because she has seen Johnny Taylor "lacerating her Janie with a kiss." So, she tells Janie that in order to protect her from having anything happen to her, Logan Killicks will marry Janie: "That was the end of her childhood."

Nanny does not intend to be cruel; she simply tries to protect Janie from the fate of her mother, Leafy, who was violated as a young girl and ruined mentally after that. Before telling Janie about her mother, Nanny has told her own story, also one of having been taken advantage of by a man, but this time it was a white man, Leafy's father and the owner of the plantation. When the mistress of the plantation saw her blond-haired, grey-eyed baby, she knew what had occurred and threatened to have Nanny beaten; so, Nanny ran off in the night, found Northern soldiers, and fled to safety. Later, she moved to West Florida to work and "make de sun shine on both sides of de street for Leafy." But, the school teacher raped Leafy one night and kept her in the woods before running off in daylight. After this, Leafy was never the same; she began drinking and staying out at night after Janie was born. Then she ran off. Now, she does not want fate to deal the same hand to Janie; therefore, Nanny will have Janie marry Mr. Killicks. She tells Janie,

" Ah wanted you to look upon yo'self. Ah don't want yo' feathers always crumpled by folks throwin' up things in yo'face. And Ah can't die easy thinkin' maybe de menfolks white or black is makin' a spit cup outa you:  Have some sympathy fuh me....Ah'm a cracked plate."

Janie's grandmother calls herself "a cracked plate" because her life and her heart have been broken by the cruel treatment she has suffered and her daughter has also been subjugated to. She has been used; as she says, "De...woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see"; she is exploited by all. But, Nanny wants to break this pattern by giving the young, pretty Janie to Logan Killicks, who can protect her.

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