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The character of Joe Starks in the novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” written by Zora Neil Hurston is Janie’s second husband and an entrepreneur who is very charismatic and well off financially. However, Starks is a bit overzealous in his ambition. There isn’t a lot of communication between him and Janie, or anyone else for that matter, and he has a huge a superiority complex, which leads to an uncontrollable jealousy over his most prize possession, Janie. Starks has envisioned himself as a “big” man in the novel. During the course of the story, Starks, in the beginning, is seen as a charming man, with a big dream and good intentions, ends up becoming the most powerful man in town, who is somewhat disliked because of spending practices and actions. Starks is somewhat seen as an imitator of the “white man on top” and the people of Eatonville resent him for it.
When Starks is first mentioned in the novel, Starks a well dressed man, not usually seen in the parts Janie was from, he was dressed nice and looking good for the world to see, Janie sees Starks coming down the road. He wasn’t just another passerby, he sees Janie, this beautiful girl on the road and he heads right for her, she’s the one that’s what he wants (Hurston 27). The character Joe Starks is an example of a man who knows what he wants in life, though he seems kind, and generous in nature, it is all a façade. Starks is a selfish person, playing a role of a “big” man who sees himself above others. Through his strong sense of confidence, charismatic personality, and his financial background, Starks is able to gain the power and influence that he seeks within the town of Eatonville. He uses Janie his wife, as a symbol of personal success. She in his eyes is more of a trophy than someone he loves. Mr. Starks shallowly believes that with all his money and power should he be entitled to a beautiful wife.
From the moment that Starks meets Janie, he promises her the world. He guarantees all kinds of nice and exotic of things to her, not because he genuinely likes the girl, but because Starks sees something that he would like to have, and in order for him to get it, he has to promise the world to take Janie away from Logan Killicks, to whom she was currently married. There wasn’t really a distinction between the two men, well besides physical appearance and age. They were two men wanting the same thing. The use of Janie as a way to progress in life, for Killicks, it was to work the land, to make it more valuable in the promise to turn it over to Janie. To Starks she would be a symbol of his power and success. “Their Eyes is a lyrical novel that correlates the need of her first two husbands for ownership of progressively larger physical space (and the gaudy accoutrements of upward mobility)” (Gates 197).
Starks eventually succeeds in taking Janie away from Logan. “After that she came to where Joe Starks was waiting for her with a hired rig. He was very solemn and helped her to the seat beside him. With him on it, it sat like some high, ruling chair” (Hurston 32). In leaving with Mr. Starks, Janie assumes a role in a higher class, among the people who sit in a “high, ruling chair.” The same people whom Starks wishes or believes himself to be in. With running off and marrying Starks, Janie has moved up a notch in social standing. It was not because of her education or talents, but because she’s beautiful and that’s exactly what Starks wanted, a trophy.
Starks does what he promised to do with Janie, which is buy her all these nice things and introduce her to a life of riches and luxury. “On the train the next day, Joe didn’t make manyÂ speeches with rhymes to her, but he bought her the best things the butcher had, like apples and a glass lantern full of candies. Mostly he talked about plans for the town when he got thereâ€¦Janie took a lot of looks at him and she was proud of what she saw. Kind of portly like rich white folks. Strange trains, and people and places didn’t scare him neither” (Hurston 34). Mr. Starks reveals his intentions or feelings that he already is in a higher class by flaunting his wealth. He buys Janie different kinds of things like fancy clothes and treats like “apples and a glass lantern full of candies.” Buying Janie all these fancy things is his way of trying to endear himself to her, as well as showing off the type of social class that he comes from. By buying his way into Janie’s life, Starks sees to believe that rhymes and speeches are a poor man’s way of romancing the woman. But through money and gifts as a form of romance, would be more of a higher class thing to do.
Starks comes to Eatonville as a type of vivid dreamer, he has big plans for this little town of shacks and dirt. He brings his money, charisma, and a beautiful young bride to a developing town. The town starts off really small, too small for the town Starks had envisioned. No one really has thought about adding acreage to the town, or let alone about expanding. So here goes Mr. Joe Starks, the self-believed savior of this fledgling little burg. He guarantees the towns people a better place to live. So Starks, being the “big” man he envisions himself to be, goes right up to the white landowner and comes back with a deed to for the 200 acres the town needed. With the first task of Starks agenda finished, he gets everyone to go to work. “So that’s where the meeting was held with Tony TaylorÂ acting as chairman and Jody doing all the talking. A day was named for roads and they all agreed to bring axes and things like that and chop out two roads running each way. That applied to everybody except Tony and Coker. They could carpenter, so Jody hired them to go to work on his store bright and soon the next morning. Jody himself would be busy driving around from town to town telling people about Eatonville and drumming up citizens to move there” (Hurston 40-1). Mr. Starks is the one who initiates the new building projects and construction of roads, hiring people to work for him, and giving himself the position of a spokesperson. After all, he was the one who bought all the land and the one with the plan itself. Who would argue with the man who come to Eatonville and change it for the better? Having attracted all the attention of the town’s people, Joe calls a town meeting and gets himself elected as the mayor of Eatonville. Starks strong sense of self-confidence, execution of his plan for the town, and money, lead to control, and a sense dominance and power over the town.
Starks shows off his new wealth and power in a strong resemblance of wealthy southern white man. Use the layout of the town for example. Starks’s house sits almost in the middle of town, around his house sit in the rest of the people of the towns homes, but is far less as nice. “Take for instance that new house of his. It hadÂ two stories with porches, with banisters and such things. The rest of the town looked like servants’ quarters surrounding the “big house.”” (Hurston 47). Starks spends his money on extravagant items like fancy spittoons for himself and even his wife. This type of free spending makes the citizens of Eatonville jealous and resent him for it. Before Starks moved into Eatonville, the people had never even thought of or had a reason to think of themselves in a different way, or even as low class, because they were all the same. The people of Eatonville before Starks came were all the same race and poor. Starks brought social differences and a type of class warfare to town, and now everyone else can see what they’re missing out on. “It sort of made the rest of them feel that they had been taken advantage of. Like things had been kept from them. Maybe more things in the world besides spitting pots had been hid from them, when they wasn’t told no better than to spit in tomato cans It was bad enough for white people, but when one of your own color could be so different it put you on a wonder. It was like seeing your sister turn into a ‘gator. A familiar strangeness. You keep seeing your sister in the ‘gator and the ‘gator in your sister and you’d rather not. There was no doubt that the town respected him and even admired him in a way. But any man who walks in the way of power and property is bound to meet hate” (Hurston 47).
Â Starks whole life entails this high sense of esteem that his manhood brings. He has formed this feeling of entitlement because of what he brings to the table. He feels that with what he has done to the town he has a right to power, wealth, and authority. Starks considers himself justified because he was the one basically in charge of building up the town that only he should be the one to run it. He gets to decide what goes on there and whose opinion counts. He runs the town with somewhat of a first of tyranny and the people of Eatonville are often grumbling and comparing him to memories of the old white slave owners and rightfully so. Starks resembles the “white man on top” in many ways. He is well-fed appearance, dressed in the finest clothes, like the well-to-do white people at the time. He believes himself to be above the townspeople, they are lower than him. Even in the case of his wife Janie. He did not marry her for love. It was all for show. In his marriage to Janie represented his control of the people, the town, as the mayor, and the most of the money in town. The only love expressed by Starks, was the love for Joe Starks. He was the “big” man around town, everything else in his mind, was just symbol in the testament of greatness that is Joe Starks.
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