Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 16: Summary and Analysis

Zora Neale Hurston

Chapter 16: Summary and Analysis

When the planting season ends, Janie and Tea Cake decide to stay on in the muck. Janie becomes friends with a light-skinned woman named Mrs. Turner, who believes black people should marry whites in order to "lighten up de race." Janie doesn't share Mrs. Turner's racist values, but talks to her all the same. Tea Cake, overhearing what Mrs. Turner says, grows offended and tells Janie to keep her new friend away from their house.

Allusions

Booker T. Washington (1856 - 1915). An author and orator who became a pillar of the African American community in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. He was opposed to Jim Crow laws and became famous for a speech called the "Atlanta Compromise," in which he decried the lynchings in the South at that time. Hurston alludes to him in this chapter to when Mrs. Turner says that he wasn't a great man at all. Instead of questioning Washington's fame, which was well-deserved, Hurston uses this allusion to make Mrs. Turner seem all the more vile to the reader.

Motifs

Transfiguration. Hurston repeatedly uses words like "transfiguration," "transmutation," and "change" to illustrate character development over time. Janie's character arc has been marked by periods of upheaval, turning the hopeful youth into the bitter woman who finds love at an unexpected time in her life. In this chapter, it's not Janie who undergoes the transfiguration, but Mrs. Turner, who feels as if her skin is lighter by association when she's around the light skinned, beautiful Janie Crawford.

Simile

Hurston compares the social stratification between light and dark skinned African Americans to the pecking order in a chicken yard.

Themes

Race. Until now, the theme of race has appeared mostly in relation to racism and slavery, particularly at the hands of white people. Here, Hurston refocuses the reader's attention on racism present in the African American community, where lighter skinned African Americans look down on their dark skinned counterparts. Mrs. Turner embodies this breed of self-hating racism and helps illuminate Janie's experience as a rich, light skinned black woman.