Now I know last week I diverged from the path I claimed I was going to write about (love in literature) but this week I plan on returning back to this interesting and quite hilarious subject. We have already discussed an interesting take on Romeo And Juliet, and the classic Pride And Prejudice, and viewed how love has a very different look in these classics than our original thoughts. Now let’s take a look at a few other classics: Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Importance of Being Earnest.
As an English Education major I’m required to read a lot of classic literature and these two books specifically struck me as very entertaining! In Their Eyes Were Watching God we are introduced to a very interesting character. The lead protagonist is Janie Mae Crawford and is an African American with “Caucasian” hair. In the beginning of the novel, Janie is described as a black girl who doesn’t even know her own color. We see this in a scene where she sees a picture of herself (at about the age of 9) and for the first time sees that she is black (and suddenly becomes distraught). This comical “poke” at race is a commonly seen concept in modern literature, but what really stood out to me was the look at marriage.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie becomes married three times; all for different (quite political) reasons. The interesting twist on these marriages is how they appear to be much more like a “job” than an enjoyment. Janie’s first marriage is an arranged marriage to a wealthy “nobleman” named Logan Killicks. Logan treats Janie as a commodity, worker, and a “mule” (read the book to discover the significance of that choice word), so Janie runs away and leaves this marriage behind. She then becomes married again to another man, Jody Starks. Jody plays out as the typical “politician” and “man of power”. To him, Janie is a trophy wife. He has her keep her hair up (this reacts as a metaphor to bondage). This marriage ends quite interesting (even for modern literature). Janie gets fed up with being a trophy and basically yells at Jody; and Jody dies (almost immediately after being yelled at). Later she goes on to marry Teacake (her only real true love) but eventually has to kill him when he goes crazy after getting rabies. And this my friends, is the portrayal of marriage seen in Their Eyes Were Watching God. It’s quite a different look then how we think of this institution (marriage/ love).
Oscar Wilde also pokes fun at marriage. One of the important concepts I noticed that was mentioned was in the triviality of marriage, or as it appears to be portrayed, in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. There are several scenarios portrayed in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest that show the concept of marriage portrayed in a darker light.
It is quite common for the institution of marriage to be teased and taunted and we see countless examples of this throughout Wilde’s play. We see one mention of this in the dialogue between Chasuble and Miss Prism that pokes a mention at the idea of the wife losing attraction to the husband after marriage:
“Chasuble. But is a man not equally attractive when married?
Miss Prism. No married man is ever attractive except to his wife.
Chasuble. And often, I’ve been told, not even to her.”
We are also brought into Wilde’s hilarity with the way in which Cecily engages Algernon (who she believes to be Earnest) without even Algernon’s knowledge of the matter. Such a concept seems ridiculous, but may in fact be teasing at the swiftness one claims to “fall in love” in these days. But perhaps what is even more discerning is in the importance of having the name of “Earnest” in order to become betrothed. Neither lady would marry simply because they didn’t know who it was they were engaged to. The name was what was important, not the person. Perhaps a reason for this light playfulness of marriage can be caused due to Wilde’s preferences. Because of the ridicule he had as a homosexual, perhaps this was his way of showing us that our institution of marriage is pretty “weird” too. And once again I say, love in literature is quite different from our perceptions of love. Quite different indeed.