Role and value of a woman in a society

"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston and "The Scarlett Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Academic Paper, 2017

6 Pages, Grade: A

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Role and value of a woman in a society

In the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, the author Zora Neale Hurston, focuses largely on the theme of roles and value of gender in a society. The same theme has been largely captured in The Scarlet Letter by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne. The two novels try to capture the traditional roles as well as the value of the two genders in a community. However, the two authors focus more on the role and value of women and how the society and people in these women’s life expect them to make their life choices and live their life. In the novels these women, represented by Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter and Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God, are expected to live their lives, not according to how they want to but according to what the rest of the society thinks a woman should be and how the society expects a woman to behave.

Zora Neale Hurston explores the gender roles and value in regard to traditional beliefs, practices as well as line of thinking. This author further explores the relationship between a man and a woman and how this kind of a relationship was supposed to operate. Janie’s nanny holds the belief that her granddaughter, Janie, should get married not out of love or desire to get married but because she needs a man for protection. This is an indication that in this society women were considered weak. After the marriage author uses the rest of the novel, do vividly discuss and illustrate ways in which the African American woman is not valued and is often disrespected in marital relationships. The author achieves this by taking the audience though out Janie’s life and the kind of marriage and husbands she endures in her life. Janie’s idea of what marriages is and what to expect in the union was initially formed from an image she saw of a pear tree uniting with a bee. The image and Janie’s expectation put her on a path to disappointment when it finally came time to marry. In all her three marriages she had no choice but to accept that she is a woman and the society as well as her husband’s will treat her as an inferior.

Two of Janie’s husbands; these are Logan Killicks and Jody Starks hold the belief that Janie’s character and social circle should be defined by her marriage to them. They both want her to be silent and domesticated as that is how a good wife should behave. Janie gets to keep quite or talk depending on where they are; there are locations, especially public places, that are considered male and therefore women should not talk while in these places. For instance, Jody forces her to keep quite in a store, a public place and as such a male space. He says that his wife does not know anything about speech making and he never married her for such reasons. He continues to add that she is a woman and her place is at home. Janie is equally forbidden from talking to men on the porch, as the porch too is considered public and therefore a man’s space. Janie’s third husband, Tea Cake, almost treats her as his equal. He openly talks to her and even plays checkers with her. However, in spite of this equal treatment at the onset of their relationship, Tea Cake hits Janie so as to show the kind of possession he has over her.

In The Scarlet Letter the character Hester Prynne gets to be so harshly judged by the society, her husband and herself because she is a woman. The society punishes her for committing adultery and conceiving a baby in the process. She is questioned, put in prison and publicly humiliated for making a decision about her own life. The society wants to know who the father of the baby is but Hester Prynne refuses to answer this question. Ironically, the hypocrisy with the rest of society is illustrated in this step as the same man questioning her, Reverend Dimmesdale, is her baby’s father. Reverend Dimmesdale does not receive the same insults and ruthlessness from the society that Hester Prynne. More so the church members, Reverend Dimmesdale included, suggest that Pearl, Hester Prynne daughter, be taken away from her mother because as she becomes older, she grows capricious and unruly, a conduct that lends to a start of rumors. The church automatically assumes that Hester Prynne is not a good role model. As such in this society women were treated worse than women and did not have much of a choice even in how they raised their own children

Sins and Punishments

The series of events witnessed by characters Hester and Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter takes the reader to the story of Adam and Eve and how the sins results in painful punishments in form of long life suffering. However in the case of the novel the sins also resulted in the knowledge and gaining of experience of how it feels like to be immoral especially in unforgiving society. For the character Hester Prynne, she committed the sin of adultery with a reverend. This action resulted in her conceiving and giving birth to her daughter Pearl as well as the society finding out about the adultery as her husband was believed to be dead. For punishment, she was put in prison and in front of the public for hours as a way of humiliating her. She was questioned about the baby’s father but refused to say because she wanted to face the punishment alone. After prison the scarlet letter she wore became a physical manifestation of her sin and a constant reminder of her painful solitude. She is excluded from the society and has to endure insults and ridicule form the society especially her fellow women.

For the character Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale the "cheating minister", of the same novel, he commits the sin of adultery with Hester Prynne and together they conceive a child and the society finds out about the affair. Because Dimmesdale is a Christian minister, he is ironically tasked with the role of finding out the identity of the baby’s father. Hester Prynne refuses to say who the father is but that does not mean he is not punished. This causes him to have very great sympathies for the sinful mankind. The sympathies are so intimate that his chest vibrates together with the sin’s chest. He suffers the shame of his actions in silence; the shame drives him to curve the letter A on his chest as a show of adultery. The curve turns to an infection would that leads to his health degrading. A physician, Roger Chillingworth, Hester Prynne’s presumed dead husband on suspecting that Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale was the man involved with his wife moves in with the reverend to enact revenge. Roger Chillingworth torments Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale psychologically until the reverend decides to confess his sins to the society. However, only Roger Chillingworth and Hester Prynne witness this. Roger Chillingworth also sees the wound in the reverends chest but decides not to treat it as another way of pushing him. The reverend eventually confesses his sins after delivering a sermon and dies of his would in Hester Prynne’s arms.

In the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, the character Janie Crawford marries a number of husbands who commit sins towards her and eventually all get their due punishments. Her first husband an older famer by the name of Logan Killicks is an abusive husband. His character is described as being pragmatic and unromantic. He physically abuses Janie, treats her like less of a person only because she is a woman and quite generally he makes Janie’s life miserable and their marriage unbearable for her. She punishes him by walking away from the marriage and running to marry her second husband Joe Starks, referred to as Jordy. Jordy is ambitious and only wants to become a politician with a big voice in the society; he eventually achieves this and becomes mayor as well as a major business man in the community. However he treats Janie in a degrading manner and does not even allow her to talk in public or socialize with common people. She punishes him by insulting him in public in front of the town’s people. He tells him he is ugly and impotent. As a form of revenge and punishment to his wife, Jordy beats her savagely. After their marriage breaks Jordy became ill and Janie visits him in hospital. She insults him and berates about how badly he treated her in the course of their marriage and he dies in the process. Janie’s third husband, Tea Cake, steals from her and hits her to show possession over her. She is eventually forced to kill him after he starts firing a pistol at her. Janie ends up in a society spreads false rumors and judges her all the time without knowing her full story.


Bloom, H (2008), Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Infobase Publishing

Hawthorne, N (1892), The scarlet letter, New York

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Role and value of a woman in a society
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston and "The Scarlett Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
University of Vienna
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ISBN (eBook)
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role, their, eyes, were, watching, zora, neale, hurston, scarlett, letter, nathaniel, hawthorne
Quote paper
Morris20 Writer (Author), 2017, Role and value of a woman in a society, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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