“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. 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. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.
From the very beginning the novel sets off by introducing its main theme, that men and women are dependent on one another. It also introduces the idea that women can make their dreams reality while men cannot do this. The protagonist of the novel is a woman and the novel could be classified as a feminist book.
“‘Dat’s de God’s truth,’ Jim Stone agreed, ‘Dat’s de very reason.’
Janie did what she had never done before, that is, thrust herself into the conversation.
‘Sometimes God gits familiar wid us womenfolks too and talks His inside business. He told me how surprised He was ’bout y’all turning out so smart after Him makin’ yuh different; and how surprised y’all is goin’ tuh be if you ever find out you don’t know half as much ’bout us as you think you do. It’s so easy to make yo’self out God Almighty when you ain’t got nothin’ tuh strain against but women and chickens.'” (Hurston 235)
Hurston, Zora Neale. “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Novels & Stories, edited by Cheryl A. Wall, Library of America, 1995. Print.
Janie is silenced in many ways in her time with Jodie, and in this significant moment, she “thrust herself into the conversation” and made her voice heard. Her appeal to God also ties in with the title and the idea of being watched.
“Among your grandmothers and great-grandmothers there were many that wept their eyes out. Florence Nightingale shrieked aloud in her agony. Moreover, it is all very well for you, who have got yourselves to college and enjoy sitting-rooms– or is it only bed-sitting rooms?– of your own to say that genius should disregard such opinions; that genius should be above caring what is said about it. Unfortunately, it is precisely the men and women of genius who mind most what is said of them.” (Woolf 72-73)
This quote really just resonates with me because I feel as if Woolf is directly addressing me. She highlights how far women have come, how they are in college and learning. But these same women should not belittle those that did not express their genius. Those circumstances were wildly different, and have even changed so much from were I sit, reading this essay now.
“For here again we come within range of that very interesting and obscure masculine influence upon the woman’s movement; that deep-seated desire, not so much that she shall be inferior as that he shall be superior, which plants him wherever one looks, not only in front of the arts, but barring the way to politics too, even when the risk to himself seems infinitesimal and the suppliant humble and devoted.”
This concept of a woman’s inferiority solely so a man can be seen as superior is nothing new. The “influence on a woman’s movement” can also be interpreted as two different scenarios: one being her movement in station or class by her own means impeded by a man; or two, being the physical act of moving itself, in order to intimidate her. The real-world and highly relevant example that comes to mind when looking at this passage is the current presidential race between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton; while she has broken many a “glass ceiling”, her opponent has still mocked and criticized her capability to lead on the sole fact that she is a woman. During the second debate he continued to move about the stage in a predatory manner, like a shark. The only saving grace, regardless of one’s views on Hilary Clinton, no one could label her a “suppliant”.
‘Peter furious; Hugh not, of course, his match in any way…he was really unselfish, and as for saying, as Peter did, that he had no heart, no brain, nothing but the manners and breeding of an English gentleman, that was only her dear Peter at his worst; and he could be intolerable; he could be impossible…But Peter – however beautiful the day might be…Peter never saw a thing of all that. He would put on his spectacles, if she told him to; he would look. It was the state of the world that interested him…How he scolded her! How they argued!’
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway. (Harcourt Inc., 2005) p. 6-7
Peter seems like a huge drag and Hugh the one that got away. It’s almost as if she was afraid of her affection for Hugh and is just outright afraid (sometimes) of Peter. It shows how desperate she was to marry ‘right’ rather than ‘the right one’.
“She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.” (Woolf 11)
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Penguin Group, 1992.
This selection is indicative of the feminist undertones to the character of Mrs. Dalloway and helps explain her function in the novel. The sentence also employs Woolf’s technique of run-on sentences, bridged by semicolons, which seems to create a stream of consciousness effect.