Historical Line

(Commonplace for Barnes posted last week)

I think it is interesting to note that through the large timeline we have covered in this class, most of the books share at least a few moments where the characters reflect on themselves and on how they interact with the others around them, whether it be through stream of consciousness, free indirect discourse, or dialogue. “A Beast in the Jungle” simply describes how the two characters “looked at each other as with the feeling of an occasion missed,” which allows for readers to relate to the feeling of missing out on something, and understand not only the look that the two characters are giving each other, but also the feeling that they have about one another, where they know each other but cannot place how, and feel guilty about it but also longing for one another. This quote involves the characters interacting with one another, and allows the readers to therefore see insight to their characters and to their relationship with one another. In “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” a similar moment occurs when “Stephen tried to laugh with them. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment.” This sentence describes Stephen’s actions and physical feelings of trying to laugh and feeling confused and embarrassed. From this, we can learn about Stephen’s character of being self-conscious and seeking the approval of his peers. In “Mrs. Dalloway,” a moment like this is shared between Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway when “she understood; she understood without his speaking.” Through Mr. Dalloway giving his wife flowers and through implied exchanged glances during this moment, the Dalloways can essentially read each other’s minds. This tells a lot about their relationship and about themselves, about how although they are not the most happily married couple, they know each other very well and also are quiet people of few words. This same theme of a relationship is relayed in “Nightwood” when it is said that “‘one of two things: to find someone who is so stupid that he can lie to her, or to love someone so much that she can lie to him.’” This quote speaks poorly of relationships, and tells how the characters of this novel are very pessimistic and cynical about the concept of relationships. Through these four novels, we can see that as we progressed through this course and through the twentieth century, this concept of interpersonal relationships seems to become less and less idealized and more cynical about the nature of humanity. However, the type of writing that conveyed people’s thoughts and opinions about other people but ended up speaking to their own character, definitely remained and carried through the century.


“She had a continual rapacity for other people’s facts; absorbing time, she held herself responsible for historic characters. She was avid and disorderly in her heart… She was one of the most unimportantly wicked women of her time – because she could not let her time alone, and yet could never be a part of it. She wanted to be the reason for everything and so was the cause of nothing” (74)

Barnes, Djuna, and T. S. Eliot. Nightwood. New York: New Directions, 1961. Print.

The chapter titled, “The Squatter” introduces the character of Jenny Petherbridge. First as “a widow, a middle-aged woman who had been married four times”, but continuously goes into depth about her character. Her “continual rapacity for other people’s facts” makes it sound like she’s extremely impressionable, without her own personality, simply an accumulation of both the personalities of other people she encounters and the events that unfold around her. As she “absorbs time”, she absorbs experience. I really liked the last line of this excerpt: “She wanted to be the reason for everything” really defines her identity as one that heavily relies on the approval or even just the acknowledgement of others, “and so was the cause of nothing”, because she never proactively did anything of her own. The narrator is setting her up as a character that would heavily depend on others, the basis of her personality.

A lot of James Joyce’s writing has to do identity and while Barnes’ characterization is through a narrative point of view, we learn much of Stephen through Joyce’s free indirect discourse style of writing. In Nightwood, the narrator keys us into a description of Petherbridge and this description is full of objective insight, facts about Jenny that she might not know about herself. Stephen’s characterization is mostly through his own thoughts, that the reader can infer characteristics about him and form his/her own conclusions. Mrs. Dalloway by Woolfe works similarly to how The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man does, narratively, because of Woolfe’s stream of consciousness style of writing. Clarissa’s thoughts give the reader direct insight to how she sees the world around her, so the readers need to keep in mind that the narration is not always reliable. Although maybe not a completely reliable narrator in Nightwood, the narration is not penetrated by the thoughts of various characters, giving the reader a hopefully more accurate representation of the events unfolding. I would compare the style of narration in Nightwood to be similar to that of in Untouchable in terms of character descriptions because it’s also that of a narrator who seems to have an “outside-looking-in” perspective. We follow Bakha through his daily struggles, and are given insight to his thoughts, and the descriptions about more tragic events are narrated to invoke sympathy, which is also something Barnes does in Nightwood, especially towards characters that suffer the destructive route of Robin.


“but think of the stories that do not amount much! That is, that are forgotten in spite of all man remembers (unless he remembers himself) merely because they befell him without distinction of office or title-that’s what we call legend and it’s the best a poor man may do with his fate; the other we call history”

Barnes, Djuna. Nightwood. New York: Norton, 2006. (17-18)

The main difference between legend and history is that history considered fact and legend is not. What the Felix is saying that in the eyes of the world a poor man will never be remembered no matter what he does.


“And childless he had died, save for the promise that hung at the Christian belt of Hedvig. Guido had lived as all Jews do, who, cut off from their people by accident or choice, find that they must inhabit a world whose constituents, being alien, force the mind to succumb to an imaginary populace.” (pg. 5). 

This passage speaks to survival tactics. At the time, to be Jewish, one was forced to “succumb” or accept the conditions of an anti-Jewish world. “Imaginary” adds a sense of fatalism: it does not matter how well a Jew can blend in, that construction of the world is fake. Despite his later attempt to disavow himself of Judaism, Guido remains Jewish. 


“‘One of two things: to find someone who is so stupid that he can lie to her, or to love someone so much that she can lie to him.'”

Barnes, Djuna. Nightwood. New York: Norton, 2006. p 23

The doctor says this to the Baron and Felix, implying that there must be some sort of lying involved in love. It insists that a woman has to either be stupid or manipulative.

Their eyes were watching God

“Us colored folks is too envious of one ‘nother. Dat’s how come us don’t git o further than us do. Us talks about de white man keepin’ us down! Shucks! He don’t have tuh. Us keeps our own selves down.” Chapter 5

Coker is making an observation, noting that white people are not solely to blame for the degradation of black people. He believes that blacks play a role but hindering one another through means of gossip and envy. Black people do not want to see one another do better, this jealousy is the bane of progression. This is stood out to me because Hurston has been quoted saying she is not “tragically black”. She did not see blackness, nor the conditions it created to be a death sentence, or social imprisonment. She felt black had the opportunity to create resources and proliferate them. This passage seems to be the representation of an actual conversation she has had or a rhetoric she has heard in conversation when discussing her beliefs.

Question: Does her writing suggest and inclination towards her own beliefs? Does he novel add to this conversation about the self destructive manners of blacks?

Their Eyes

“You know, honey, us colored folks is branches without roots and that makes things come round in queer ways. You in particular. Ah was born back due in slavery so it wasn’t for me to fulfill my dreams of whit a woman oughta be and to do. Dat’s one of de hold-backs of slavery. But nothing can’t stop you from wishin’. You can’t beat nobody down so low till you can rob em’ of they will. Ah didn’t want to be used for a work-ox and a brood-sow and Ah didn’t want mah daughter used dat way neither. It sho wasn’t mah will for things to happen lak they did. Ah even hated de way you was born. But, all de same Ah said thank God, Ah got another chance. nAh wanted to preach a great sermon about colored women sittin’ on high, but they wasn’t no pulpit for me. Freedom found me wid a baby daughter in mah arms, so Ah sad Ah’d take a broom and a cook-pot and throw up a highway through de wilderness for her. She would expound what Ah felt. But somehow she got lost offa de highway and next thing Ah knowed here you was in de world,” (15).

Interesting way to preach to a child. The type of life that generation expects women to abide by gives the newer generation nothing to stay rooted in and grow from– they grow and branch out as their own without building from their roots.


Their Eyes Were Watching God

“It was a spring afternoon in West Florida. Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back yard. She had been spending ever minute that she could steal from her chores under that three for the last three days. That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom.” (10)

Especially since the beginning of this chapter starts with Janie comparing her life to a tree, this passage marks the beginning of her sexual awakening and the experience of essentially getting a new body during puberty.

Their eyes were watching god.

“What she doin’ coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?—Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?—Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?—What dat ole forty year ole ’oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?—Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid?—Thought she was going to marry?—Where he left her?—What he done wid all her money?—Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs—why she don’t stay in her class?—”


The language uses black vernacular. This piece talks about the type of women whom she used to be compared to who she is now that she’s back. She used to seem all classy when they describe her in her “satin blue dress” compared to what she arrived back in which was the overalls. They also talk about how she her husband had left her money which could explain why in the previous paragraphs she came back from “a sudden death.” The people that are watching her I believe are her neighbors and they are doing so out of jealously and curiosity. They wanted to know more about her and why she decided to come back after so long. In this piece it talks a lot about hierarchy, so you can tell that there is a big line between who she was before she left, who she was when she left, and who she turned out to be when she returned.

Their Eyes Were Watching God.

“If you don’t want him, you sho oughta. Heah you is wid de onliest organ in town, amongst colored folks, in yo’ parlor. Got a house bought and paid for and sixty acres uh land right on de big road and . . . Lawd have mussy! Dat’s de very prong all us black women gits hung on. Dis love!” (23). 

The practice of arranged marriage is a tactic used by the well-off to maintain economic and social roles — marriage can combine wealth and power. In this case, the intent of arranged marriage is quite the opposite: Nanny finds Janie a husband in order to protect her from abuse. “Sixty acres” being the promise of reparations post-slavery is a symbolic attempt to demarcate social class even within an already oppressed group — yet another tactic adopted from the powerful.  


“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

When I read this book for the first time in high school this quote stuck out to me. I love Hurston’s writing and the way she combines poetry with fiction. Reading this a fourth time didn’t have any drawbacks on the power of her style. This is something that has a lot of merit now and helps me cope with what’s going on.

“She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman” (30).

This passage made me think of the poem “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton. In both the woman is facing moments of accepting her life for what it is, and for what it means to be a woman. Janie is accepting that marriage does not mean love, but that it comes with being a woman and that she must accept this and embrace it. Much the same way the “women” in Sexton’s poem do.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tire. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013. p.1

Their Eyes Were Watching God

“She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman” (30).

Growing up, I was constantly confronted with the idea that I should enjoy my youth, because as soon as I got out of it, things were going to get more shitty.  Here, it seems as though she’s lost her last bit of youth.  Her first, most important dream of finding love was impossible, so she buckled down, grew up and accepted being an adult as best she could.


Their Eyes Were Watching God

“She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013. p. 144.

Overall in Janie’s life, it seems as if everything that happens to her that seems good is actually a curse in disguise. Whether it be Tea Cake stealing her money, or Jody beating her or putting her down, Janie is constantly shut down by her significant others as they surprise her by revealing a dark side she didn’t know they had, leading her to not be able to trust anyone.


“But he kept up his new form, rigidly adhering to his clothes day and night and guarding them from all base taint of Indianness, not even risking the formlessness of an Indian quilt, though he shivered with the cold at night”

Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable (New York: Penguin Books, 1940), 12


“Meanwhile he began to feel hungry as if rats were running about in his belly searching for food. He began to spit a white flocculent spittle on the dust as he hurried out of the town, homewards. His limbs sagged. He felt the sweat trickling down his face from under his turban as soon as he got into the open.” (74)

The passage just struck me as very modern and also builds upon this pattern of narrative distance between the character and the words used to describe a situation, like ‘flocculent.’


“I remained standing. Whenever anyone passed by I would place my head at their feet and ask them to tell the Hakim. But who would listen to a sweeper? Everyone was concerned about himself.”

Mulk Raj Anand. Untouchable. (New York: Penguin Books, 1940). 68.

The passage its self is vary strait forward, but it illustrates the societal apathy that allows repressive systems like the castes exist unchallenged.


“It seemed to suit him, to give a homogeneity, a wonderful wholeness to his body; so that you could turn round and say: ‘Here is a man.’ And it seemed to give him a nobility, strangely in contrast with his filthy profession and with the sub-human status to which he was condemned from birth.”

Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable. (Penguin Books, 1935). 20

This declaration of manhood reminded me a lot of a medieval poem where a native man confronted a knight and asserted his manhood by saying being noble doesn’t make a man, actions make a man. This excerpt is the same. Bakha doesn’t inherit his low-born status, he can make himself whoever he wants to be.