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 Joe's perception of his new wife's role and what demands does he make of her?

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Joe Starks has a very old-fashioned, chauvinistic idea of a woman's role in society. As far as he's concerned, a woman's place is in the home, keeping house and raising kids. Once he's married Janie, he makes it clear to her that he expects her to do whatever he says. A bossy, overpowering man, Joe is used to getting his way. He is not about to let a woman, least of all his wife, challenge his authority.

For Joe, the most important thing in life is power, either political power or interpersonal power. And the same applies to his marriage. Joe didn't marry Janie out of love. He simply wanted a trophy wife, someone he could show off as a glittering trinket to bolster his masculinity. He enjoys the control he has over Janie and exploits it to the full.

For Joe, Janie is just one more expression of his power. One could describe their marriage as a power partnership—except that all the power is on Joe's side. In keeping with the standards of the time, Janie is expected to be quiet, demure, and submissive. But as Janie's actually quite a strong, independent woman, she stands up to Joe, which only makes him even more determined to exert his physical power over her. And so he beats her, treating Janie to a regular battering of domestic abuse. He also belittles her in front of others and makes her out to be some kind of moron, which, of course, she most certainly isn't.

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