Chapter 8: Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on April 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436
Following the fight, Joe (or Jody, as he is often called) moves into the downstairs room, where he grows gradually ill. Janie continues to care for him and cook for him, but he rebuffs her kindness and begins spending time with people he never cared about before, like certain root-doctors. She frets about his health, asking her friend Pheoby what to do. When Joe’s kidneys shut down, she sends for a doctor from Orlando and demands to talk to Joe, who hasn’t been letting her into his room. She tells him that he’s going to die and that he wasn’t a good husband to her. He dies soon after this.
Hurston uses a metaphor when she equates Joe’s facial hair with a “loose-filled bag of feathers.”
Like many writers before her, Hurston personifies Death, picturing him in a house high up in the sky overlooking the world. When Joe falls ill, Janie realizes for perhaps the first time that death is unavoidable and inevitable, that there is no stopping it, and that “[no] winds can blow against [it]” to slow it down.
Hurston uses many similes in this chapter, one of which is “But even these things were running down like candle grease as time moved on,” where “these things” refers to Joe’s baggy skin.
Death. Hurston continues to develop the theme of death with her depiction of Joe’s slow decline. This is the first human death that readers witness with any amount of detail, and it spurs Janie to think about death for what might very well be the first time. She concludes that death is an inevitability and that its extraordinary power makes that of nature, men, and animals pale in comparison. She isn’t afraid of death but does feel pity for Joe, who slowly succumbs to it. She will have a very different reaction to the death of her third husband, Tea Cake.
Disease. Prior to Joe’s death, there was very little mention of disease in the novel beyond that experienced by Matt Bonner’s mule in his last, ignoble weeks. In this chapter, disease, in concert with old age, comes to the forefront, establishing itself as a major theme in the novel. Joe’s illness, which may or may not be a relatively common kidney condition, is allowed to go unchecked because Joe is too afraid to confront the idea of his own death. This needless capitulation to disease will seem all the more foolish to readers in the final chapters, when Tea Cake must fight against his illness.