Janie's process of self-realization is depicted as a lifelong endeavor, punctuated with the presence of strong-willed characters that represented oppression and control. Her grandmother, Nanny, relied on guilt in the form of family obligation and community expectations to force Janie into a loveless marriage. Although she wants society to change for Janie, she does not understand that it is her own conformity that perpetuates the system. Nanny's life experiences have convinced her that, "de nigger woman is de mule uh de world." (Gates & McKay, p. 1068) So her s character is incapable of believing that a woman can survive independently. The only solution in her mind was to try to attain for Janie what she herself would have wanted, a husband with property.
Janie's first and second husbands, Logan Killicks and Joe Starks, are strong ambitious men who have managed to rise above the social restrictions suffered by most black men of the time. Each of these characters attempt to impose their own restrictions and confinements on Janie. Logan reinforces the theme of a woman's value as a mule, servant and slave to man by his expectation that his wife work as hard as he does and since she does not work to his level, he believes her to be lazy and spoiled. His harshness with the beautiful, light-skinned Janie further emphasizes the contrast of class and race distinctions. For Logan, Janie is his property and her complexion is representative of the white oppression that he has worked so hard to overcome.