Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 5: Summary and Analysis
by Zora Neale Hurston

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Chapter 5: Summary and Analysis

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's 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's too "close-mouthed" to open up to her neighbors or really get to know anyone; because of this, she's 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 street lamps 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 power 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's 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's 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 here 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's 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...

(The entire section is 904 words.)