Their Eyes Were Watching God

Yo’ Nanny wouldn’t harm a hair uh yo’ head. She don’t want nobody else to do it neither if she kin help it. Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see. Ah been prayin’ fuh it tuh be different wid you.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013. p. 13

Complex ideas in simplified language. Nanny expresses a deep understanding of the social hierarchy and hers and Janie’s position on it. Nanny and Janie are below black men who are below white people. Emphasis on “seeing”: Nanny has witnessed only whites in power and black women as the mules of the world and expresses that she only knows what she sees. She’s aware that her experience is specific to the social system she and Janie are currently in and does not deny the possibility of a social system in which blacks or black women specifically have some power, further expressed in “Ah been prayin’ fuh it tuh be different wid you.”

Untouchable

“For though he considered them his inferiors since he came back with sharpened wits from the British barracks, he still recognised them as his neighbors, the intimates with whose lives, whose thoughts, whose feelings he had to make a compromise. He didn’t expect them to be formal. And as he stood for a while among them, he became a part of a strange, brooding, mysterious crowd that was seeking the warmth of the sun. One didn’t need to employ a courtesy, a greeting to become part of this gathering as one does in the word where there is plenty of light and happiness. For in the lives of this riff-raff, this scum of the earth, these dregs of humanity, only silence, grim silence of death fighting for life prevailed.”

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. (New York: Penguin Books, 1940). 36.

Bakha’s exposure to the Tommies as a sweeper of their barracks is enough for Bakha to view himself as superior to his neighbors. There is a noticeable hierarchy within this lower class. Bakha’s view, however, seems contradictory: while he is superior to his neighbors, he is also part of them. Through shared experience, all basking in the warmth of the sun on one level and all experiencing “the lives of the riff-raff, this scum of the earth, these dregs of humanity” on another level, Bakha was equal to them.