Illustration of the profile of Janine Crawford and another person facing each other

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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What is the irony in the couple's situation in chapter eight of Their Eyes Were Watching God?

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In Chapter 8, Jody sleeps in a different room from Janie because he feels emasculated by what she said about him in the store on the previous day. The narrator asks, "Why must Joe be so mad with her for making him look small when he did it to her all the time? had been doing it for years" (81). Part of the irony here is that Jody is so offended by one insult while not recognizing the way he has dehumanized his own wife for most of their marriage.

In this chapter, Jody also becomes sick and dies by the end of the chapter. He seemed so strong but weakens quickly. It's also ironic in this chapter that Janie is happy that Jody will die because when they first met, she imagined her life with him would be perfect. The relationship definitely does not turn out how she expected. In the next chapter, we also learn how content and joyful Janie feels inside while putting on a mask of grief to present to society at Joe's funeral. All of these examples are situational irony because they refer to mismatched expectations at the level of plot and character development.

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The irony of Joe and Janie's relationship at this point in the novel connected to the central theme of finding one's voice. Joe, who has always promoted himself as a "big voice" in Eatonville, has basically suppressed Janie's voice throughout their entire 20 year relationship. And now, on Joe's deathbed, the full weight of this implication is realized.

As Janie says:

"Dat's just whut Ah wants to say, Jody. You wouldn't listen. You done lived wid me for twenty years and you don't half know me atall. And you could have but you was so busy workhippin' de work of yo' own hands, and cuffin' folks around in their minds till you didn't see uh whole hep us things yuh could have."

"Leave heah, Janie. Don't come heah--"

"Ah knowed you wasn't goingtuh lissen tuh me. You changes everything but nothin' don't change you--not even death [...] Mah own mind had tuh be squeezed and crowed out tuh make room for yours in me."

In this scene, Janie finally raises her own voice and speaks her own mind, re-connecting with her soul and her sense of identity. Unfortunately for Joe, it takes death to silence him long enough to hear what Janie has wanted to say for all these years.

This is situational irony.

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