Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Nanny Crawford Character Analysis

A former slave, Nanny is Janie's grandmother, a woman predominantly characterized by traditional perceptions about gender and marriage. Specifically, Nanny focuses on the importance of upward mobility and financial security for women, especially black women, and sees that goal as attainable only through marriage and the primary factor in selecting a husband (as opposed to, say, love). Although Nanny only wishes the best for her granddaughter, Janie feels tremendous frustration at various points throughout the novel for the limitations that Nanny's traditional worldviews have imposed upon her life and her particular desire to seek independence and freedom.

Nanny Crawford Quotes in Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Their Eyes Were Watching God quotes below are all either spoken by Nanny Crawford or refer to Nanny Crawford. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper Perennial edition of Their Eyes Were Watching God published in 2006.
Chapter 2 Quotes

"Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it's some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don't know nothin' but what we see…De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see."

Related Characters: Nanny Crawford (speaker), Janie Crawford
Related Symbols: Mule
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

When Nanny catches sight of Janie kissing Johnny Taylor, she calls her in to the house and broaches the topic of marriage. Janie is a woman now, she explains, and she should therefore marry a "decent" suitor like Logan Killicks, rather than someone "trashy." Janie's resistance leads Nanny to describe their world's social hierarchy: white men at the top, black women at the bottom. 

Hurston here introduces the symbolic mule, which comes to stand for victimization, particularly that of many of the novel's black women. Again and again Janie pushes back against her fate, a life of thankless physical and emotional labor without freedom or joy. Logan Killicks, her first husband, even buys her a mule and Janie sees her own plight reflected in the animal. 

Not only does this section have symbolic value, but it also raises questions about Hurston's endless shifts between dialect and a more traditional narrative voice. In this way, Hurston puts the two styles on a single plane, proving to her contemporaneous readers that all dialects have equal literary merit. As they navigate this complicated text, one in which no register is ever stable, readers must remain engaged and attentive — authority, particularly in the novel's world, can reside within grammar and diction.

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Chapter 9 Quotes

Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon – for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you – and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter's neck tight enough to choke her.

Related Characters: Nanny Crawford
Related Symbols: The Horizon
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

In the days after Jody's death, Janie contemplates her past, including her relationship with Nanny. She feels a sudden resentment towards her grandmother, who married her off to a loveless, greedy man.

Janie's eyes always drift back to the horizon in Hurston's novel; here, the word "horizon" seems to mean love (or marriage). As a young woman, Janie wanted nothing more than a fulfilling romantic life, and yet Nanny used her granddaughter's desire against her, coercing her into marriage. Janie dreamed of love, the horizon, and Nanny "pinched it" into a more convenient shape, a profitable alliance with a rich man, but one that also ended up choking her. 

Not only does this visceral image remind readers of slavery and Nanny's own life as a slave, but it raises essential questions: How can language shape reality? How can Janie control her own story? Nanny uses rhetoric as a weapon against Janie; however, the younger woman herself emerges as the final narrator, recounting her story to Pheoby. (Note Hurston's use of the second person — "the horizon is still way beyond you" — in a section about authority and voice.)

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Nanny Crawford Character Timeline in Their Eyes Were Watching God

The timeline below shows where the character Nanny Crawford appears in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Janie is raised by her grandmother Nanny, and never met her mother or father. Janie and Nanny live in the backyard guesthouse... (full context)
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
...and absent parents. To provide Janie with a greater sense of stability in her life, Nanny eventually buys a small plot of land, which Janie specifically describes as having a gate... (full context)
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
...The day of the kiss, Janie spends the day under a blossoming pear tree in Nanny's yard. Janie is moved by the fertility of the tree, finding its shift from winter... (full context)
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Nanny notices Janie and Johnny kiss from inside the house, and quickly arranges for Janie to... (full context)
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
When Janie protests against marrying Logan, Nanny defends her decision by describing her own difficult past. Nanny was born into slavery and... (full context)
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Nanny explains that she initially dreamed of providing a better life for Leafy, but those dreams... (full context)
Chapter 3
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
...ever grow to love her future husband, resolving eventually to comfort herself: to believe what Nanny and other adults assure her – that she will in fact eventually love Logan and... (full context)
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
..."waits for love to begin" for her new husband until she returns home to visit Nanny. When she does return, Janie complains to Nanny about the absence of feeling in her... (full context)
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Janie is then met with severe criticism: Nanny calls attention to Logan's wealth, again making reference to his sixty-acres of property, and reprimands... (full context)
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
After Janie leaves, Nanny prays that God will take care of her granddaughter. Within a month, Nanny dies. Through... (full context)
Chapter 9
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...Janie thinks more critically about her familial origins – and in particular, her relationship with Nanny. (full context)
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Janie expresses anger toward Nanny and the values and worldviews she taught Janie as a child. Specifically, Janie says that... (full context)
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Despite Nanny's belief that "Uh woman by herself is uh pitiful thing," Janie feels remarkably happy in... (full context)
Chapter 12
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
...her previous marriage to Jody marked a time when she lived her life according to Nanny's worldview, and that now she is ready to live her own way. When Pheoby asks... (full context)