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Chapter One Subordination to Man
A. Work-ox and brood-sow to the white people
Since the first group of Africans were trafficked to America in 1619, black people were enslaved to white people and were denied human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the time of slavery, they worked as work-ox which can be sold, tortured or even killed at their owner’s will. Being given little food to eat and shabby clothes to wear, black slaves had to take excessive physical labor. Black women were in more miserable condition. In the daytime, they had to work as hard as black men. In the evening, they were the tool for their white master to release their sexual desire. When they were pregnant by their master and gave birth, they were treated even worse by their mistress. Their child, being a mulatto, was a slave who became a new tool to meet their master’s sexual desire, which was another hard hit to black woman. As bell hooks states in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center:
As a group, black women occupy an unusual position in this society, not only because we are at the bottom of the career ladder together, but also because our overall social status is lower than that of any other group. In this position, we bear the brunt of gender discrimination, racial discrimination and legal aid oppression. At the same time, we are an unsocialized group that does not play the role of exploiter/oppressor because we do not allow institutionalized “other” that we can exploit or oppress. White women and black men have two sides. They can be oppressors or oppressed. Blacks may be victims of racism, but racism makes them exploiters and oppressors of blacks.
Hurston keenly observed and dedicated to depict the hardship the Afro-African women experienced as an usually neglected group. In her novel, Janie’s grandma Nanny is the epitome of the miserable fate black female slave would experience. Nanny who is “born back due in slavery”3, is raped by her white master and gives birth to her daughter Leafy. Not long after the birth of Leafy, her white master leaves home and takes part in the battle. Then, Nanny’s white mistress who cannot stop her husband from raping Nanny, takes her gall of her husband’s betrayal out on Nanny. She tyrannizes and abreacts all her jealous and resentment to Nanny. She slaps Nanny cruelly, threatens to whip Nanny till the blood run down to her heels and to sell Nanny’s daughter Leafy. Nanny has to flee from her mistress’s backyard with her newly born baby to save her baby.
B. Mule of family
The history of human civilization is the history of the establishment and development of patriarchal society. In the patriarchal society, women are personal property of men, and they are daughters of fathers, sisters of brothers. They have no independent social status and rights, and their identities are completely attached to men. As Jonathan Cullers claims, man/woman’s “hierarchical structure is marked in myriad ways, from the biblical genetic record that women are created from men’s ribs as a complement or ‘aid’ to the semantic, morphological, and etymological relationship between men and women in English”9.In patriarchal culture, women are “the second sex” or “the other”. They are the class which is under the exploitation and oppression of men. However, the black women are quite different from the white women in America. Although white women may suffer the oppression from men, they also have the racial privilege to act as exploiters and oppressors over the black(both men and women) while black women are at the bottom of the American society.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston applies the image—mule to signify the miserable status of black women. The image mule firstly appeared in a folk tale, “Why the Sister in Black Works Hardest” that collected in Mules and Men. The first time the image appears in the book is when Nanny tries to persuade Janie to marry Logan. From Nanny’s personal life experience, she forms the view that “de nigger woman is de mule”3. Nanny believes if Janie does not marry Logan, Janie may became the white man’s mule or spitting pot, which also implies Nanny’s recognition of patriarchal value. It verifies that the society has made the patriarchal culture internalized in Nanny’s mind and influenced Nanny’s thought and deeds. When Janie tells Nanny her worries that how she can fall in love with Logan, Nanny only tells her it is foolish to think about love, “Heah you got uh prop tuh lean on all yo’ bawn days, and big protection, and everybody got tuh tip dey hat tuh you and call you Mis’ Killicks, and you come worryin’ me ‘bout love”3.
Chapter Two Spirit Being Restrained by Man
A. No communication in marriage life
After Janie is enlightened under the pear tree about the sweet love and harmonious marriage, she is arranged to marry Logan by Nanny. Janie does not want to marry Logan since she does not love Logan and Logan does not match her imagination of the romantic love and harmonious marriage. But Nanny tells Janie “ ‘Tain’t Logan Killicks Ah wants you to have, baby, it’s protection.”3 To Nanny, Leafy and her experience of being torturing and rapped by the white makes her believe being a mistress in a bought house and with sixty acres land is the best security for Janie. The marriage between Janie and Logan is an exchange between Logan’s property and Janie’s beauty and youth. From the very beginning, Janie is not one participant in this marriage, but an object be traded.
In the novel, Logan is a man who is “absent of flavor” and only cares material life. To Logan, having lands and accumulating wealth by working hard on the lands is the only thing he cares. Logan marries Janie just because he need a helper on the land and an object to release his sexual desire. In the novel, Logan is in an ambivalence. On the one hand, Logan has the confidence and sense of superiority that he is the only one who can provides the material security for Janie and takes her out of the white backyards. Under the influence of patriarchal culture, Logan automatically assumes that Janie should be obedient and do exactly what he demands her do without talking back—just lack a mute mule. On the other hand, deep in his heart, Logan worries Janie may be lured by other men and leave him since she is so young and beautiful. Besides, under the influence of white culture, Logan has the conception that all black women are born to be chippie. There for, Logan try to dominant Janie and silence her to maintain his authority.
B. Deprivation of discourse in family life
To Janie, Joe “does not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance.”3 When Janie realizes the relationship between herself and Logan will never get changes, Janie decides to take the chance for change. When Janie elopes with Joe, she is hopeful that “she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom. Her old thoughts were going to come in handy.”
However, the second marriage with Joe is not the equal and harmonious one Janie expects to have. While Janie is under the physical exploitation from man in her first marriage, Janie receives the spiritual oppression from man.
When they first meet, Joe calls Janie “a pretty doll-baby”3 and claims that Janie should “sit on de front porch and rock and fan yo’self and eat p’taters dat other folks plant just special for you.”3 From their first met, Joe takes Janie as a doll which is used to please him. When people come to welcome Joe and Janie, Joe shows his dominance of Janie for the first time. When people ask Janie give a speech in public, without giving Janie a chance to make her choice, Joe makes the decision for her and says “Mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speech-making’. Ah never married her for nothi’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home.”3 Joe makes his first attempt to confine Janie in the home and act like a mute doll. Janie feels the “bloom off of things”3. In the following days, Janie continually notices the inharmonious relationship between them. When Janie tells her thoughts to Joe, Joe’s words, “Ah aimed tuh be uh big voice... dat makes uh big woman outa you”3, makes Janie gets the feeling of coldness and fear. Once more, Janie notices inequality between them. It is Joe who decides Janie’s life rather than herself.
Chapter Three Construction of Independence……………………… 31
A.Self awareness awakened by nature ………………………31
B.Pursuit of true love ……………………… 33
C.Dependence on self………………………37
Chapter Three Construction of Independence
A. Self awareness awakened by nature
Janie was born in the back yard of the Washburn who are the quality white folks. She does not experience the crucial mistreatment a black child usually would experience. Actually, Janie has a rather happy childhood under her grandmother’s protection. In the back yard of the Washburn, Janie plays with Washburn’s kids together, and even receives the same punishment when they are caught in their devilment by Nanny or Ms Washburn. No one ever tells her that she is different from her white playmates until she finds it occasionally. When Janie is six, someone takes a photo for her and her playmates. When Janie cannot recognize herself in the photo, everybody laugh. After Janie expresses her astonishment, everybody even laugh “real hard”. This event, on one hand, shows Janie is too innocent to realize her identity as a black. On the other hand, it exposes the Washburn’s innermost superiority over the black. Before her six-year old, Janie is a pet rather than a human being as equal as her white playmates. Another thing can show Janie’s subordinate existence in the white world is her name. “Dey all useter call me Alphabet ‘cause so many people had done named me different names”3 The white people name Janie at their own will while their own children have their particular name, while Janie shows no resistance to it. Sigrid King claims that “naming is tied to ethnic as well as individual identity”5. Therefore, Janie has no awareness of her subjectivity at that time.
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