Susan Sontag’s essay, “Against Interpretation” discusses art and how it should and shouldn’t be experienced. Sontag states, “Indeed, we have an obligation to overthrow any means of defending and justifying art which becomes particularly obtuse or onerous or insensitive to contemporary needs and practice” (Sontag 691). While I agree with this statement in general, Sontag uses this statement to justify the overthrow of the concept of content in art (Sontag 692). However, the Oxford English Dictionary defines fine art as “the creative arts, including the visual arts, poetry, music, rhetoric, etc., whose products are intended to be appreciated primarily or solely for their aesthetic, imaginative, or intellectual content” (OED). Therefore, art and content cannot be separated from one another.

Looking at literature as an example of art, Sontag’s proposition to remove content from art is shown to be impossible. The format of a work of literature such as a short story is content. The “story” of the short story is content. The words and the sentences are content. The letters of the words are content. Even something as abstract as random letters on a page is content. In fact, even a blank sheet of paper, if it is named “literature,” is content although the lack of content would be its content. But the inability to separate art from content is not really a problem for Sontag because what she is truly averse to is the interpretation of the art’s content as a way to make the content safe or otherwise alter the experience of it.

Sontag reveals her feelings about the aggressive interpretation of art in her discussion about The Bible. She states, “Interpretation thus presupposes a discrepancy between the clear meaning of the text and the demands of the (later) readers” (Sontag 692). I agree with Sontag that art should be experienced as it is and that one should be skeptical of those who claim to have the correct interpretation. However, I do not agree that interpretation of art has no value. Each interpretation is unique to the individual who made the interpretation. The interpretation of art only has value in showing how individuals make sense of art.



Works Cited

“fine art, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2019.

Sontag, Susan. “Against Interpretation.” Against Interpretation and Other Essays. 1966.

Wimsatt, Beardsley, and Stoll: Right off the Bat

When Wimsatt and Beardsley lay out their axioms on intention in a poem, they say, “The words of a poem, as Professor Stoll has remarked, come out of a head not out of a bat” (Wimsatt and Beardsley 3). Taken at face value, this statement is hard to interpret because of the baffling phrase “out of a bat.” The Oxford English Dictionary leads to two possible idioms that could be at use in Stoll’s phrase “out of a bat.” Either he could be referencing the American idiom “right off the bat” or the English idiom “off his own bat.” The American idiom “right off the bat” refers to something done instantly or without time for preparation. The English idiom “off his own bat” refers to individual performance ignoring outside influences or contexts.

The first part of Wimsatt and Beardley’s quote, “The words of a poem […] come out of a head” translates readily: the words of a poem require thought and preparation to arrange the right words in the right order. However, “[N]ot out of a bat” may either mean not done without preparation or not done without looking at the influence of others. Therefore, if “bat” is not a typo, the strange wording of the quote means that the words of a poem come from the hard work and preparation of a poet including the outside influences of tradition.

However, when Michael Hancher quotes this section of Wimsatt and Beardsley’s article, he quotes it as, “The words of a poem, as Professor Stoll has remarked, come out of a head not out of a hat” (cited in Hancher 833). If Hancher has not been the victim of an overzealous editor who changed the proper quotation for one that make more grammatical sense then the Whimsatt and Beardsley line could mean something at least slightly different. Saying that the words of a poem do not come out of a hat means implies that they do not appear by magic as if a rabbit from a magician’s hat. Or it could mean that they believe that Dadaist techniques of poetic composition are invalid stating that words pulled out of a hat at random are not sufficient for the creation of a work of poetry. Whatever the meaning of the Wimsatt and Beardsley quotation, their sentence has failed at conveying the author’s intention and is more suited for a work of poetry than a transparent work of prose.




Works Cited

Hancher, Michael. “Three Kinds of Intention.” MLN, vol. 87, no. 7, 1972, pp. 827–851. JSTOR.

Wimsatt, W.K., and Monroe Beardsley. “The Intentional Fallacy.” The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1954.

Deconstructing Deconstruction

Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” is comprised of several short self-contained arguments explaining why the author is no longer an important part of literature. Quite possibly the weakest of his arguments is the one that states that the author is not important because he or she does not write him or herself into the work. Barthes states, “[T]he text is henceforth written and read so that in it, on every level the Author absents himself” (Barthes 4). Barthes claims that the author’s act of absenting himself from the finished product creates a product with no origin. Barthes states, “[The author’s] hand, detached from any voice, borne by a pure gesture of inscription (and not of expression), traces a field without origin—or which, at least, has no other origin than language itself, that is the very thing which ceaselessly questions any origin” (Barthes 4). But this logic does not track because the creation of a literary text in not a mindless scribbling on a sheet of paper.

Barthes’ belief that the author of a work merely transcribes his or her own literary work from an outside source—despite his outside source being language itself—sounds too much like the belief in a higher power. Like the poets of old, Barthes’ seems to be painting the author as merely a focus point for the muse. However, where the ancient poets would pray to the muse to lend truth to their poetry, Barthes has the author simply and thoughtlessly moving the writing implement over the page. While pecking away at my keyboard to write this response to Barthes, I am doing much more than randomly plucking the keys. I am thinking and rethinking what it is I am trying to say, and even when I do absent myself from the text, it is still born by the sweat of my brow. Now, I am left with the question: since I included the first person point of view in my text, would Barthes believe that I wrote, or did it still just come into existence on its own? And if my text does come into existence on its own, will it be just as good if I put no effort into it?


However, on the overall question of what “The Death of the Author” brings to the practice of literature is that it frees the writer from the need for total originality. A dead author is now free to compile works of literature rather than simply create them. Works can be built from bits and pieces of other works and put together like a collage. An example of this type of literature would be T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland where he takes parts of his poem from newspaper clippings. “The Death of the Author” also allows for the death of responsible literary criticism. Therefore, a literary critic is allowed to pursue any avenue of literary criticism. Parts of larger works can be evaluated out of context without concern for contradicting the larger meaning of the work itself. And works can be evaluated without regard to the academic critical consensus. For example, when evaluating Shakespeare, one can effectively ignore the hundreds of years of research by Shakespeare scholars and come up with a totally unique argument.



Work Cited

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Translated by Richard Howard, 1967.

Double Trouble

In the fairy tale, “Little Brother and Little Sister,” doubling is one of the main themes of the story. Little Brother and Little Sister both share the title of the hero of the story, and as a result, many of Vladimir Propp’s fairy tale functions are doubled to match the doubling of the hero. The doubling of the fairy tale functions is particularly evident in the doubling of the villain. It is very obvious at the beginning of the story that the stepmother is the villain. She beats the children on a daily basis and she is later shown to be a witch when she curses the brooks to change Little Brother and Little Sister into beasts. Strangely, a second villain shows up in the story.

The king and his huntsmen arrive in the story and hunt down Little Brother. The narrator says, “[T]he fawn ran off into the forest, and he was so glad to be out in the open that he bounded with joy. The king and his huntsmen say the beautiful beast and chased him […]” (Grimm et al. 42). While the king and his huntsmen turn out to be friendly to Little Brother and Little Sister, in this case, they function in this case as second villain of the story, and the hunt of Little Brother acts as Propp’s fairy tale function number sixteen, direct combat between the hero and the villain. While Propp’s fairy tale functions allow for a false hero (function twenty four and twenty eight), his functions do not allow for a false villain; however, the king and his huntsmen act in the role of the false villain.

My notion of a fairy tale function for a false villain would work similarly to Propp’s fairy tale function number twenty four and twenty eight regarding the false hero. However, instead of the false villain presenting unfounded claims as the false hero does, the false villain is the victim of unfounded claims generated by the villain. Instead being exposed like the false hero would be, the false villain begins to see through the deceit created by the true villain. In this case, the king and his huntsmen believe Little Brother to be a forest beast and not a cursed boy. When the truth is revealed, they lend aid to Little Brother and Little Sister and help them defeat the stepmother.



Works Cited

Grimm, J., et al. “Little Brother and Little Sister.” Grimms Tales for Young and Old. Anchor Books/Doubelday, 1983.

Propp, V. “Morphology of the Folktale” University of Texas Press. 1968.

Defrauding Freud

The losses found within Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “One Art” form a list of disconnected objects that are connected within the framework of the poem. The list consists of keys/hours/places/names/houses/realms/rivers/a continent/you. All of the objects listed in the poem are generic examples. The door keys are not specified which door or doors they unlock. The misspent hours are not specified when they were spent or on what they could be better spent. The places, the names, the houses, the realms, the rivers, and the continent all leading up to the “you” are all equally generically defined.

The generic blankness of all of these examples leads to the impression that the” you” that is to be lost (or has been lost) at the end of the poem is an equally generic example of its class. This generic “you” could easily be lost and replaced with any other object from the category of “you.” Therefore, as the poem infers in the last two stanzas when the speaker says, “I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster./—Even losing you […]” (Bishop 15-16)  the loss of  the “you” is just another every day and unimportant loss that can be shrugged off without making much of a mark on the speaker’s life. Except, the distance created by the speaker using only generic examples shows that the speaker is distancing him or herself from a much more traumatic loss.

The speaker states, “Then practice losing farther, losing faster […]” (Bishop 7). The line, on its own, lends little to the discussion of the subconscious of the text, but several times when I was reading through the poem to assess the connections between the items lost, I misread the word “farther” as “father.” The repetition of my misreading and the close resemblance between the word “farther” and “father” shows a possible area of repressed trauma. The word “farther” is only one letter off of the word “father” and could easily be the subconscious of the speaker trying to communicate the existence of an elderly and ailing parent. The speaker must practice the loss of his or her father through the typical losses people experience over a lifetime. Or because there is no sex in my psychoanalytic interpretation, the speaker may simply be practicing the oedipal murder of his or her father as Freud would suggest. To be a pervert or not to be a pervert, that is the question.



Work Cited

Bishop, Elizabeth. “One Art by Elizabeth Bishop.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,

The New Hampshire Connection

Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” demonstrates intimate knowledge of ranching life both in the workings of a ranch and in the psychology of being a ranch owner. According to, “In 1900, Frost moved with his wife and children to a farm in New Hampshire […] During that time, Frost and Elinor attempted several endeavors, including poultry farming, all of which were fairly unsuccessful” (Robert Frost Biography). Frost’s poem demonstrates the personal interactions of land owners engaged in the menial labor of fixing a wall. This is the type of labor that a rich land owner would have likely hired out to local laborers. Due to Frost’s unsuccessful farming attempts, the depiction of two land owners working their own land could easily have been a poetic reinterpretation of one of Frost’s duties on his ranch.

While the two ranchers are mending the wall they engage in a mostly one sided conversation about the necessities of having a wall between the two ranches. The speaker comes up with imaginative arguments against having the wall and the other rancher simply repeats an old aphorism. Frost writes, “He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’” (27), and he writes, “He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’” (45). This doubling down on the repetition of this common saying characterizes the typical poor rancher from New Hampshire in the early 1900s as at least unimaginative and likely uneducated. This lack of imagination on the part of the neighboring rancher seems to be Frost’s explanation for the other rancher to be doing his own manual labor, but it does not explain why the speaker cannot afford to hire a laborer.

Throughout the entire poem, the speaker comes up with imaginative examples of a grand conspiracy against the wall. Frost begins his poem with this line: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” (1). He blames the holes in the wall first on nature—“the frozen ground swell” (2)—then on hunters and their dogs—“I have come after them and made repair […]/But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,/To please the yelping dogs” (6, 8-9). Finally, the speaker blames the failing wall on magical beings. Frost writes, “I could say ‘Elves’ to him,/But it is not elves exactly […]” (36-37). The imaginative conspiracy against the wall characterizes the speaker as someone who, if not lazy, is unprepared for all the work that is entailed in owning a ranch. And the imagination required to come up with such this type of magical conspiracy shows someone who is able to think in abstract terms. The speaker shows the imagination of a poet and the ability for abstract thought of an educated individual. Therefore, the speaker’s imagination and lack of preparation for the ranching lifestyle mirrors Frost’s time as a failed rancher.




Work Cited

Frost, Robert. “Mending Wall.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation.

“Robert Frost Biography.”, A&E Networks Television, 9 Sept. 2019.

The Literary Road Map

According to Iser, the process of reading, the creating of expectations and frustrating of those expectations, is what allows readers to generate individual discussions of the text including literary criticism.

It is this interplay between “deduction” and “induction” that gives rise to the configurative meaning of the text, and not the individual expectations, surprises, or frustrations arising from the different perspectives. Since this interplay obviously does not take place in the text itself, but can only come into being through the process of reading, we may conclude that this process formulates something that is unformulated in the text, and yet represents its “intention.” Thus, by reading, we uncover the unformulated part of the text, and this very indeterminacy is the force that drives us to work out a configurative meaning while at the same time giving us the necessary degree of freedom to do so. (Iser 292)

The expectations and frustrations that the reader experiences while reading are what create the basis of a critical reading. These expectations and frustrations do not exist within the text itself or within the final reader understanding of the text.

In this particular interpretation, the critical reading of a text is something that exists outside of both the text and the reader’s understanding of the text. Therefore, the phenomenological approach to literary criticism differs from the new critical approach when deciding where the critical reading takes place. The new critics believe that the tensions and contradictions that can be developed into a critical reading of the text exist within the text while the phenomenologists believe that these same tension and contradictions are generated in the reader’s mind as part of coming to an understanding of the text.

In a phenomenological reading of a text, each word and each sentence in a text work essentially like a set of sequential road signs. Each sign within the text has its own meaning and can only be brought together into a larger meaning through the introduction of a reader. The reader must interpret his or her way through the text one step at a time. Each time a new sign comes along the reader must update his or her understanding of the trip. Just like the road signs on the road the words of a text exist separate from each other and only have meaning once interpreted by an outside source.



Work Cited

Iser, Wolfgang. “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach.” The Johns Hopkins University Press. N.p., 9 June 2016.

Short, Bent, and Ashamed: Salvation in an Un-savable World

T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” acts as a key to understanding the importance of any particular poem within the context of the tradition in which it was created. Eliot says,

[T]he historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. (Tradition and the Individual Talent)

According to Eliot, writing in “the historical sense” allows one’s poetry to hold a place in tradition not as a follower of tradition, but as a co-creator of tradition. Eliot’s poem, “Gerontion,” is a good place to look to see how “the historical sense” can be used to push poetry forward while remaining fully engaged in tradition.

Eliot firmly entrenches his poem within tradition through the use of disjointed fragments of Christian imagery. The second stanza of Gerontion ends in a reference to Christ: “In the juvescence of the year/Came Christ the tiger” (19-20). The line, “We would see a sign!” (17) is very likely a reference to Matthew 12:38 where the Pharisees ask Christ for a sign of his divinity. However, the order of biblical history has been reversed in this stanza. In Gerontion, the Pharisees ask for a sign (17) before the coming of Christ (19-20). In this stanza, Christ is seen as impotent describing him as a helpless infant. The poem says, “The word within a word, unable to speak a word,/Swaddled in darkness” (18-19). Showing Christ as unable to speak and swaddled—as if he were an infant—reimagines the figure of Christ as incapable of proving his divinity to the Pharisees rather showing them as unwilling to accept the signs they have been given. The idea that Christ is “swaddled in darkness” shows him as somehow sinister.

This image of a sinister Christ, then, characterizes the Christian legends of the dogwood and flowering judas trees by the parallels of their stories. The cross that Christ was crucified from is fabled to be from the dogwood tree (Highlights 1995), and the judas tree was is fabled to be the tree in which Judas hung himself in shame after the death of Christ (Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia 2018). According to legend, both trees were once tall and straight and after the death of Christ they became short and twisted due to their shame in the roles that they played in conjunction with Christ’s death. However, Eliot’s poem lists these trees in the line directly after the mention of Eliot’s sinister Christ. The juxtaposition of these trees so close to the reimagined Christ shows them not as having been humbled through shame at their connection to the death of God, but as withered by sinister influence.

“The historical sense” allows Eliot to engage tradition and change it as he sees fit in order to create the particular mood required for the poem. Therefore, Eliot is able to show a world in the aftermath of the First World War, a war that killed 40 million people and left the survivors with a new and sinister understanding of the same tradition they always had.

Works Cited

Eliot, T. S. “Gerontion.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation.

—–. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation.

“Judas Tree.” Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, Jan. 2018, p. 1; EBSCOhost.

“The Legend of the Dogwood Tree.” Highlights, vol. 50, no. 4, Apr. 1995, p. 5. EBSCOhost.

Wordsworth has his Daffodils and Eats Them Too

In “Observations Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads,” Wordsworth argues that pleasure is obtained through gaining knowledge. He believes that pleasure can be created both through hard won knowledge and through simple observations laid out in ordinary language. Wordsworth says,

“[The Poet] considers man and nature as essentially adapted to each other, […] with affections akin to those, which, through labor and length of time, the Man of science has raised up in himself, by conversing with those particular parts of nature which are the objects of his studies.” (Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads)

Wordsworth says though man and nature are adapted to each other, the knowledge—where knowledge equals pleasure—that man derives from nature only comes through “labor and length of time.”

In other words, pleasure is derived from difficulty. But at the same time, he believes pleasure can be translated from the poet to the common man through simple, well considered language. He states, “[W]e shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a nature, and in such connection with each other, that the understanding of the Reader must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, and his affections strengthened and purified” (Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads). The enlightenment, strengthening, and purification would come simply from reading the verse with no other work required of the reader to make sense of what he or she has read.

However, in practice, Wordsworth simply exchanges one form of difficulty for another. In exchanging complicated phraseology for common speech, he concedes that he must add in abstract symbolism to make up for the poetic difficulty that is lost. He says, “[A poem] must necessarily be dignified and variegated, and alive with metaphors and figures” (Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads). Therefore, the pleasure given in the poem—because pleasure equals knowledge—cannot be obtained through a straight reading of the text. The reader must grapple with the changing metaphors to come to any real understanding of the poem. The exchanging of difficulty is evident in the poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”

A straight reading of the text of this poem shows the speaker of the poem watching nature and gives little knowledge other than a strategy to alleviate boredom through remembering a scene of nature. With such little transfer of knowledge in a straight reading of this poem, according to Wordsworth’s own understanding, the reader must gain very little pleasure from this poem. In order to gain knowledge from the poem, the reader must exert effort to translate the elaborate symbolism of the poem. Through the difficult work of making sense of the metaphors of this poem, the reader may come to see the poet on high, as a cloud looking over his readership of lowly daffodils awaiting the next volley of knowledge coming down from the heavens.





Works Cited

Wordsworth, William. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation.

—–. “Observations Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation.

Everything Human in Death

Zora Neal Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God makes liberal use of elements of African American cultural experience. But what is most striking about the novel is how it conforms to the language and structure of the blues. In fact, Adam Gussow uses Hurston’s novel as an example of the language of the blues. He states,

Anybody who has read Hurston’s Mules and Men and Their Eyes Were Watching God, anybody familiar with her evocations of Sop de Bottom, Big Sweet, and Tea Cake, knows how much boastful, playful, threatening, self-annunciating energy the language of blues people contains. (Gussow)

Maria Johnson also sees blues in Hurston’s novel. She states, “The name Tea Cake is itself a blues name which conveys in blues language the depth and intensity of the singer’s passion. The name suggests a sweet food delicacy in the same way that the common terms jellyroll and sugar do in the blues” (Johnson 402). But Hurston does more than simply use the blues to create a unique tone: she uses the language of the blues to explore difficult ideas through Call and response as well as a three part blues structure. Hurston uses the language and structure of the blues particularly well in her development of the difficult topic of death.

In Hurston’s blues exploration of death, she approaches the topic through both serious and mocking representations of death. Both the tactful and the tactless depictions of death come together in a conversation. In the blues context, this conversation is known as a call and response. Discussing the call and response aspect of the blues Gussow states, “Two things are calling back and forth to each other—reinforcing, versioning, outdoing, and/or signifying on each other. Each is dynamically adjusting itself to the other, so that each response in turn becomes a call that provokes further response” (Gussow). For Janie, the serious representation of death set out a call and the mocking representations answer the call in a way that at times cushions the blow.

One example of the connection between the serious and mocking representations of death is the call and response between Nany’s death and the funeral for Matt Bonner’s mule. Nanny’s death is met with little fanfare. In fact, her death is related in one simple line. The narrator says, “A month later she was dead” (Hurston 24.) While the character of Nanny only occupied a small part of the narrative, her character was vividly drawn and her impact on Janie’s life was great, her death was almost ignored. Nanny’s death being treated so lightly creates an unresolved tension that can be felt overshadowing Janie’s life at least until the funeral for Matt Bonner’s mule. The funeral for Matt Bonner’s mule as a response to the call from Nanny’s death shows the town gathering together to honor the life that in no way deserves such an honor. The absurdity of the idea that the town would get together to mourn the loss of a mule points a glaring and mocking finger at Nanny’s uncelebrated death. But the way that the town revels in the absurdity, rather than intensifying the unresolved tension around Nanny’s uncelebrated death, de-sanctifies the notion of a funeral. The narrator states, “On the swamp they made a great ceremony over the mule. They mocked everything human in death” (Hurston 60). In their mockery, the notion of having a funeral for the dead is shown to be an empty experience and the pain of not having Nanny’s death celebrated is lightened.

However there is more to the blues than simply the application of call and response. The blues has a particular construction that shows up in Hurston’s novel as well. According to Gussow, the blues follows an AAB verse form. The first line is stated. Then, the line is restated, often with embellishment. Finally, the third line of the verse moves the idea in another direction. Gussow states,

[I]t is almost as though what blues song does is try out a statement, one that proposes an emotional or stylistic orientation towards life’s bad news, then reprises or repeats that statement in a way that suggests either a possible variant on the initial stance or, by contrast, an intensification of the initial stance. The B line, in any case, puts a cap on it—or in it—and sends you hurtling into the next verse. (Gussow)

Hurston’s realistic depictions of the topic of death are clearly laid out in this AAB verse form.

If Nanny’s death is the A line, and Joe Stark’s death is the repetition of the A line with embellishment, Tea Cake’s death is the B line that ends the verse and hurtles the blues forward to the next verse. The simple depiction of Nanny’s death with its single line delivery is intensified and embellished in the depiction of Joe Starks’ death. Whereas Janie is absent at Nanny’s death and unable to find closure, Janie is able to bridge the distance between herself and Joe Starks, at least physically, before he dies. The narrator says, “[Janie] got up that morning with the firm determination to go on in there and have a good talk with Jody. […] Jody, no Joe, gave her a ferocious look. A look with all the unthinkable coldness of outer space. She must talk to a man who was ten immensities away” (Hurston 84). While Joe Starks is unreceptive to Janie’s search for closure at least she was able to voice the feelings she had been holding back.

Janie’s experience of Tea Cake’s death also involves the overcoming of distance; yet, the distance between Janie and Tea Cake is not one that had been purposefully created like the distance between her and Nanny and her and Joe Starks. Nanny creates the physical distance between her and Janie that stops them from being together when Nanny dis. However, Nanny orchestrates the distance in an effort to protect Janie. She has Janie wed Logan Killicks as a representation of her love for Janie. Janie’s marriage to Logan Killicks both protects Janie from the type of abuse that Nanny fears Janie might otherwise receive, and the marriage creates the distance that keeps Janie away at Nanny’s death. On the other hand, the distance between Janie and Joe Starks is caused by mounting resentment between the two. The distance between Tea Cake and Janie is something different. The distance between Tea Cake and Janie is a result of the random nature of life and death. The distance between Tea Cake and Janie is a result of the love that Tea Cake holds for Janie. The distance between Janie and Tea Cake is a result of the mental illness Tea Cake contracts when he fights off the rabid dog that threatens Janie’s life. The narrator states, “They fought and somehow [the dog] managed to bite Tea Cake high up on his cheek-bone once. Then Tea Cake finished him and sent him to the bottom to stay there” (Hurston 166). Tea Cake’s self-sacrificing love for Janie, in a random twist of fate, causes the distance between the two. And in a twist that could be straight out of blues song, Janie shoots her husband dead in order to protect their love.

It is this final death, the death of Tea Cake, that reveals the most memorable aspect of the blues: the idea that, despite all the worst that life can throw your way, life continues on. Or as Gussow states,

‘You’ll live through it’ […] Living through it, whatever ‘it’ was, couldn’t be taken for granted […]. It put things in perspective. It reframed them in a useful way. It didn’t say, ‘Things are easy.’ It said, ‘They’re bearable, compared with the worst-case scenario, and they’ll get easier by and by.’ (Gussow)

And Janie does “live through it.” Janie says, “Ah done been tuh de horizon and back now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons” (Hurston 191).








Work Cited

Gussow, Adam. “Blues Expressiveness and the Blues Ethos.” Center for the Study of Southern Culture, 24 Jan. 2018.

Hurston, Zora Neale, et al. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Distributed by Paw Prints/Baker & Taylor, 2010.

Johnson, Maria V. “‘The World in a Jug and the Stopper in (Her) Hand’: ‘Their Eyes’ as Blues Performance.” African American Review, no. 3, 1998, p. 401.