Monday, January 14, 2008

Sanguine At Its Finest

“The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart." (Robert Ingersoll). Loss often appears in literature, and affects a character in a life changing way. Select a novel or play of literary merit in which the loss of something greatly (positively or negatively) affects a character in the novel. Then write a well-organized essay in which you describe both the loss and the change and explain its relevance to the work as a whole.

Loss is a word well known to the main character in Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. Janie Crawford starts losing things starting at a very young age, and it does not seem to stop as she gets older, simply worsen. She “loses” her parents, her youth and freedom, her second husband and ultimately her one true love.
Yet, despite these constant emotional trials and misfortune, Janie not only stays sanguine, but she becomes more so because of them. She does not wallow in her misfortune, or in what “could-have-been”, but she keeps moving forward. She not only keeps her youthful optimism, but also gains newfound love for life and a hope for better things. These losses do not hinder Janie, but empower her.

It is said that when one loses something, they also gain something; any action has an opposite and equal reaction. Others simply recite the proverb “when a door closes, a window opens”. No matter which form it takes, both essentially mean the same thing; with any loss, some form of a gain accompanies it. This fact of life does not shy away from the literary world, and has an undeniable presence in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Each time Janie loses something she gained something in equal value. First, she loses her youth. When her grandmother forces her to marry Logan Killicks her youth, innocence and part of her freedom are also stricken from her. But with it she gains a new life, a new outlook. She had been begging for a change, and she got one. She no longer has her innocence, but she begins to grow up, to learn and experience life even though it was not quite as she had expected.

Secondly, she loses her second husband. After leaving Logan she marries Joe Stalks. She expected a life very different than what she gets. He gradually comes to control her, restricts her from everyday life, and with it he takes her freedom. For twenty years she lives by his rules, unable to casually converse with others, wear her hair as she pleases, or live. And yet, with his death and her losing him, she gains a newfound freedom. We realize that he did not take it, she simply stored it away. Once he dies she brings it out of hiding and embraces it. Once again she is able to live the life that she had always imagined, dreamed of, needed.

Lastly, and most importantly, she loses her only true love. She meets a man named Teacake, and falls in love. She learns of passion and what it means to be loved and treasured. But just as quickly as she finds it, it is stricken from her. Teacake dies as a result of that love and selflessness. She loses her one true love. Yet, most importantly, with it she loses all criticism and cynical ideas of the world. She does not live her life vengeful or angry, but comes out of it with a greater optimism and faith toward life. She is more grateful that she had the opportunity, despite its short life, to experience true and unconditional love. She does not feel regret, but honor and happiness. In this last trial she gains something more important than she ever had. This loss proved life changing.

The fact that she becomes so hopeful and grateful for life instead of regretful and bitter is admirable. It is what separates her from most other literary characters. As a result from her loss and tribulations she gains more faith in life, faith in reality, and faith in love. She not only learns from her experiences and situation but becomes more grateful for what she is left with. After the loss of her second husband Joe Stalks she is grateful for her newfound freedom. She does not sulk over her lost years, but rejoices that once again she is free. Then, after her hardest loss and most trying obstacle, the loss of Teacake, she comes home grateful with the knowledge that she had the opportunity to experience true love. Janie is not one to stop life, but one to keep living it, all the better having overcome the losses life has thrown at her.

“The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart." (Robert Ingersoll). Janie bears both loss and defeat many times in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. She feels a sense of defeat when Joe begins to take hold of both her life and her freedom, but these losses she experiences, these obstacles in her life do not keep her from losing heart. After each trial, each test of life, she comes out with a bigger heart, a bigger sense of hope and optimism. This admirable characteristic held by Janie is the reason she is one of literature’s most influential character. Her trials and losses threatened to defeat her, but they merely strengthened her heart and her drive.

[authors note: I believe this piece of literary mastery deserves a 7; then again, I'm a litle biased. ]

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