You Can’t Stop Me, You Can Only Hope to Contain Me & Other Musings on Being a “Piece of Work”: Family Ties & Expectations for Women

As my semester in American Women Writers class & my posts begin to come up far and in between, we’ve begun to read a second- hand account of the life of an African- American woman. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is the first piece we’ve read this semester where a story is narrated, rather than told personally by the author. As of right now, in terms of reading, we can’t really know if the story being told by Hurston is her own, or if this character of “Janie” around whom the narrative is centered is fictitious.

But either way, this character of Janie is the first that I relate to strongly, out of all the other characters we have encountered this semester. The reason why might or might not be such a good thing, which is the topic of my blog post for today.

In Their Eyes Were Watching God,  Janie is seen as a very sassy, demanding, and sometimes prideful person, almost to a fault. She rejects the idea that any man trying to marry her, or any man her grandmother wants for her to marry is “doing her a favor” or “making a proper woman” out of her. My impression on her thus far is that she is very strong- willed, and that very little can be done to sway her opinion or re- vamp her not- so desirable personality traits. When I read about Janie, two phrases come to mind:

1. You cannot stop me, you can only hope to contain me.

and

2. What a piece of work.

The first phrase is a little inside joke that I have within my family. Some people might even say that this phrase is my mantra. At home, I am very much known for my spontaneous, maybe even impulsive nature. I do a lot more “doing” rather than anything else- I like to think of it as hopping on it and being productive. You can’t really stop me once I’m on the track towards something, you can only hope to contain me or slow down my momentum, or else it’s full speed ahead. I spend a lot of time worrying about doing my homework, or doing my homework, or thinking about the long to- do list I have gathered up in my planner. I either stay up really late at night, or get up very early in the morning to somehow always manage to get my work done right on time and get it done as well as I can. I lose a lot of sleep that way, but it’s just kind of how I do things. It drives my parents insane when they walk through the darkened house at 3 am to get to the bathroom, and they find me sitting on the living room couch on my fourth cup of coffee, tears streaming down my face from exhaustion and the glaring light from my laptop. Usually, when they find me there, there’s jumping and screaming because I scare them- I’m so quiet that they don’t notice that I’m there for a long time. At school, sometimes I sleep with my laptop in my bed so that I can wake up and start working ASAP. Actually, I did that this morning, to be completely honest. Actually, I recant that. I’m doing it right now, at 9:23 am. My parents are always concerned about my high stress level, anxiety all the school and activities I do, and lack of sleep from how I get my work done. But in a weird way, it works from me, crying and breakdowns included. They’ve been telling me for a long time that I need to find a better way to do this- I’m in college now, old habits die hard, and they die even harder when you’re as hard- headed as me.

But, I’m not always “productive” in the best of ways. I drive my parents crazy with things like buying concert tickets last- minute and heading to Madison Square Garden, or deciding to go to Brooklyn at 7 pm on a Friday night after saying that I wasn’t going to go anywhere or do anything this weekend. I’m also quite stubborn, so once I recognize something, I tend to harp on it and talk about it and work towards it or let it consume me until it’s come to fruition. My hard- headed personality also gets me into “spats”, let’s call them, because I have very set morals and beliefs that very little can sway me from. At home, I tend to be a little bit of an outlier with how I say and do things. In both goods ways and bad, because my anal- retentive nature drives me to a get a lot done, but it also gets me into situations where I’m at the end of my rope, or bring other people to the end of theirs.

Hence, being a piece of work. Along with my iron- will comes a personality much too large for my 4′ 11” stature. I’m sassy, a little passive aggressive, I talk too much, and as my dad likes to say, I’m a “handful for any guy who’s willing to date you and put up with you and all of your bull****”. I sound like a dream, right?

Interestingly enough, the same is being said about Janie in Eyes, she gets responses like “No man is gonna wanna put up with a woman the likes of you”- she’s told that as a woman, her place is in the home, but I can already tell that she is someone much too ambitious for the confines of a kitchen.  And I admire that about her, that an African American woman feels the urge to go against the tides of society and conventional expectations for women, despite being told that maybe she shouldn’t, or how she’s going about it is all wrong or self- detrimental. This might sound a little self- deprecating, but sometimes we have to sacrifice a little bit of ourselves to get the things done that we need to, especially as women. Lack of sleep and tears are sometimes nothing in comparison to that A in class, and for Janie, maybe she’s willing to make some ripples in the water at her own expense.

She sounds like too much for a lot of people, long hair and a way of being that’s a little too much for some, a little more overbearing than one would like, but I can tell that’s she’s ready to rock the boat- and if something out of the ordinary comes into being due to her, the fact that she’d be choosing to face whatever difficulties come her way is the a sign of a strong woman. I love that she doesn’t need somebody else to determine her value or her worth, or dictate to her who she wants to be. And as much as the men in her town talk about how she’s uncontrollable and unruly and a little out of place or not “homey” or submissive or complacent enough, they also still seem to be after her and her long locks of hair. There’s something about a woman like her, that as much as you don’t want to be interested, you still kind of are, because there’s a mystery and aura surrounding her, it’s different, and sometimes different is all you need to recognize the potential that people can have.

Their Eyes Were Watching God can become, as I continue reading, a story of female empowerment and sometimes a strong female is seen as a “piece” of work, something that needs to be contained or stopped or slowed down. But when it comes down to us women, you can’t stop us, you can only hope to contain us.

– W

Works Cited:

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.

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One thought on “You Can’t Stop Me, You Can Only Hope to Contain Me & Other Musings on Being a “Piece of Work”: Family Ties & Expectations for Women

  1. Pingback: Expressions of Love in “Their Eyes Were Watching God” | americanwomanwritingforwomenwriters

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