Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 587
This short story by Zora Neale Hurston opens with the booming voice of Grandma Potts as she demands her granddaughter, Isis Watts, to get down from their gate post and continue working on the yard. With this one quote, we are immediately given a glimpse of their relationship, as well as their individual temperaments: Grandma's adherence to social strictures and her no-nonsense approach lies in stark contrast to Isis's fun-loving, curious nature, which fuels her to playfully balance on top of boundaries before nonchalantly crossing them:
You Isie Watts! Git 'own offen dat gate post an' rake up dis yahd!
Isis Watts is a free-spirited little girl whose energy makes her naturally act beyond the limits of being lady-like. As Grandma Potts accosts her for every single account of her perceived misconduct, Isis satisfies one little behavioral detail only to disobey another, causing a series of bellows from Grandma Potts who, as we find out, is very particular in micromanaging the way her granddaughter carries herself based on how she perceives women must conduct themselves:
Isie sat bold upright as if she wore a ramrod down her back and began to whistle. Now there are certain things that Grandma Potts felt no one of this female persuasion should do—one was to sit with the knees separated, 'settin' brazen' she called it; another was whistling, another playing with boys.
Despite Isis's seemingly boundless nature, she still operates within the context of household duties, particularly one defined by gender roles. This demonstrates the strict division of labor among boys and girls within these households. It also offers us a glimpse into Isis's character as one who carries a streak of naughtiness but weaves this within a sense of responsibility:
Being the only girl in the family, of course she must wash the dishes, which she did in intervals between frolics with the dogs.
Isis then goes on a streak of "misdemeanors" all caused by her innocent desire to help. Beginning with daydreaming under the table and imagining herself in luxurious robes riding white horses to the edge of the world, she turns her attention to the gray chin hairs trembling under each breath of her snoring grandmother. She then decides that she must, with all noblest intentions, shave her grandmother's chin. She is caught by her older brother, and a small argument ensues over who is in the better position to do it. In the end, they come to an agreement to share the task of lathering and then shaving. Their grandmother wakes up in a very comical scene where she sees Isis completely absorbed as she holds a razor close to Grandma's neck. This causes Grandma Potts to spring up, flee, and hurl curses at Isis. Isis is sure she is in trouble. She hides under their house in worry; however, the sound of approaching live music seduces her. Immediately, all worry is overcome by delight. She follows it down the road; however, she quickly realizes she is not properly dressed to dance at the carnival. An idea springs up in her head, and she runs back to the house to don her grandmother's red tablecloth—wearing it like a scarf to the carnival. When Grandma Potts sees her tablecloth all soiled by a wildly dancing Isis, it sends her to yet another fit of rage. Isis bolts through the crowd and runs straight for the woods. There, the once-bright and joyous Isis contemplates her misfortunes by a creek:
Misery, misery and woe settled down upon her.