Last Updated on April 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 932
Janie and Joe Starks take the train to Maitland, Florida (a.k.a. Eatonville), where a small all-Black community has settled. Joe immediately asks to speak to the mayor but quickly learns that they don’t have one yet. Once he realizes that there is a power vacuum, he begins throwing his money around and decides to build a general store. Joe buys up a lot of land, which impresses people to no end, and quickly establishes himself as a pillar of the community. Janie, as his wife, becomes the most prominent woman in town, but she is too “close-mouthed” to open up to her neighbors or really get to know anyone; because of this, she is seen as distant and doesn’t make any friends.
On the night of the store’s grand opening, the townsfolk elect Joe Starks mayor. His first order of business is to buy streetlights for the town. While he solidifies his position, Janie has to work at the store, which she doesn’t like. Gradually, people start to think of her and Joe as a powerful couple and begin to fear Joe, though he isn’t physically imposing. Rather, they respect his position, envy his possessions, and at times lust after his wife. This breeds a curious mix of fear and admiration, which leads them to praise Joe and give him even more power as mayor.
Yet again, Hurston uses metaphors tied to the natural world, as in the sentence “he’s de wind and we’se de grass.” The wind in this context is Joe and the grass is the townsfolk. A character named Oscar Scott uses the metaphor to express his feelings of inferiority when he is around Joe.
Flowers. Thus far in the novel, flowers have been largely symbolic, used to develop the themes of sex and sexuality. In this chapter, Hurston also uses flower imagery in other contexts, as when she writes that Joe’s condescending tone “took the bloom off of things” for Janie. This is both an indication that their marriage isn’t as new and fresh as she hoped it would be and a sign that Janie’s youthful hope and desire is beginning to fade.
Janie’s Head-rag. Joe forces Janie to wear a head-rag to cover her long beautiful hair, which Hurston established as a powerful symbol of Janie’s sexuality in chapter 4. Her head-rag is thus a symbol of the control Joe has over Janie and the often oppressive nature of their relationship. He is trying to strip her of her sexuality and make her less attractive to other men while at the same time marking her as his possession, which he can do with as he pleases.
Joe’s Spittoon. Like Joe’s house, money, and clothes, his spittoon is a symbol of his wealth and social status. As soon as he gets one, the other men in town feel inferior, not just because they don’t own spittoons but because they didn’t even know that such things existed. This further illuminates the essential difference between the townsfolk and Joe: he has extraordinary ambition, and they don’t.
Change. Hand in hand with the theme of hope is the theme of change, which Janie looked forward to back in chapter 4 and begins to regret in chapter 5. When she ran off with Joe, she expected them to spend more time together, to connect, to be on the same page. When that doesn’t turn out to be true, she is disappointed, and this change (from hope to disappointment) is more important for her narrative than any of the changes that take place in Joe, the town,...
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and their “friends.”
Gossip. In this chapter, readers see the very beginnings of the gossip mill that criticized Janie in chapter 1. It arises from the evident gap between the townsfolk and Joe and Janie Starks, who are considered town royalty by virtue of Joe’s new position as mayor. This difference in wealth and social status separates Janie from the other citizens of Eatonville, making it hard for her to make friends. She becomes a subject of malicious gossip and a sexual object to some of the men in the town.
Money. Joe Starks makes a big show of throwing his money around in this chapter. He dips into his own pocket in order to buy streetlights for the town, and he spends the money to build a store, a huge house, and a good reputation. For these efforts, he is elected mayor, a position afforded to him as much by his money as by his overwhelming ambition, which alienates him from Janie, who isn’t happy in their marriage. Though she was certainly attracted to the idea of a richer, prettier life in Joe Starks’s world, the reality of the situation (that they don’t spend any time together) depresses her, and she becomes largely uninterested in money.
Power. In this novel, power is often synonymous with wealth, and the more money Joe earns at the store, the more powerful he becomes. His power over all the people of Eatonville also extends to Janie, whom he attempts to lord over, forcing her to wear a head-rag and belittling her for being unable to give a speech at the grand opening of the general store. He says, “Mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat.” But he did marry her to make her a slave, and that’s what he starts doing in this chapter.