Tag Archives: dialect

Power, Language, and Identity

There is no question that Their Eyes is spearheaded by dialogue. Hurston takes advantage of the familiar southern dialect and guides the novel accordingly.  Jody’s need for dominance over Janie is apparent through his actions, especially during the mayoral speech.

“The burst of applause was cut short by Joe taking the floor himself.

‘Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife dont know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat.  She’s uh woman and her place is in de home'” (43).

The contrasting identities of Janie and Jody regarding independence result in a power conflict observed by the town.

“‘Maybe he make her do it.  Maybe he skeered some de rest of us mens might touch it round dat store.  It sho is uh hidden mystery tuh me.’

‘She sho don’t talk much.  De way he rears and pitches in de store sometimes when she make uh mistake is sort of ungodly, but she don’t seem to mind at all.  Reckon dey understand one ‘nother'” (50).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.

Levels of Language

“What dat le forty year ole ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?–Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid?–Thought she was going to marry?–Where he left her?–What he done wid all her money? Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs–why she don’t stay in her class?–”

Neale Hurston, Zora. Their eyes were watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition, 2006. 2.

Immediately, the reader realizes the different thresholds of language the narrator utilizes to depict her story. There is an interesting contrast between the language used by the protagonist and Hurston. The narrator’s voice is sophisticated, elegant, and articulates her thoughts with precision. On the other hand, Janie and Nanny’s voice can be seen as an entirely different prehistoric dialect.

Hurston and Janey’s sense of humor

“When it was all done she stood in front of Joe and said, ‘Jody, dat wuz uh mighty thing fuh you tuh do. ‘Tain’t everybody would have thought of it, ’cause it ain’t no everyday thought. Freein’ dat mule muakes uh mighty big man outa you. Something like George Washington and Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln, he had de whole United States tuh rule so he freed deh Negroes. You got uh town so you freed uh mule. You have tuh power tuh free things and dat makes you lak uh king uh something.’

Hambo said, ‘You’ wife is uh born orator, Starks. Us never knowed dat befo’. She puts jus’ de right words tuh our thoughts.'”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2000. Print. 58.

Wimsey the Obvious

“The deuce you have–what an energetic devil you are! I say, Parker, I think this co-operative scheme is is an uncommonly good one. It’s much easier to work on someone else’s job than one’s own–gives one that delightful feelin’ of interferin’ and bossin’ about, combined with the glorious sensation that another fellow is takin’ all one’s own work off one’s hands. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, what? Did you find anything?” (Sayers 29).

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.

This passage contains many examples of Wimsey’s dialect, characterized by unfinished present progressive verbs and the act of spouting out all of his ideas as they come into his head. This type of dialogue is different from both Stein’s “Melanctha” and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. For example, Wimsey’s dialect differs from that of Melanctha because it is rather common or believable, while Melanctha’s dialect is skewed to fit into Stein’s own writing style. Rather that structuring sentences in strange ways like Stein, Sayers merely uses dialects of voice or accents. Furthermore, Whose Body? clearly lacks the free-indirect discourse of a modern novel like Joyce’s and focuses more on direct reported discourse. Because of this, Wimsey’s thoughts come to the reader clearly and easily, unlike Joyce’s style of vague and “infected” narration in which the reader is unsure of whose thoughts he receives.