Janie Crawford's autobiography opens with a bit of family history. Raised in West Florida about twenty years after the end of the Civil War by her grandmother (Nanny), Janie never saw her father and scarcely knew her mother. Janie decides her conscious life began at age sixteen, when she has her first revelations about love, sexuality, and identity. While sitting beneath a pear tree one spring afternoon Janie recognizes sensuality everywhere she looks - tree blossoms opening, bees pollinating blooms, flies "tumbling and singing, marrying and giving in marriage" (11). For a more detailed examination of the pear tree image, please see the Metaphors section. Janie suddenly realizes she yearns for this sort of sensuality and fulfillment in her own life, which quickly appears in the form of a boy, Johnny Taylor, who she allows to kiss her over the gatepost. Nanny, however, catches her in the act, and informs Janie that she is being married off to an older man, Logan Killicks, for her own protection. When Janie protests - envisioning the destruction of her newfound sensuality - Nanny slaps her.
To comfort Janie, Nanny recollects her own unsettling past: As a slave near the end of the Civil War, Nanny gave birth to her white master's child, who became Janie's mother. The master's wife realizes the week old baby is her husband's, with its "gray eyes and yaller hair," (17) and goes into a jealous rage. As punishment, she decrees, Nanny will receive a hundred lashes in the morning and watch her baby sold off once it is a month old. Nanny successfully runs away with her baby that night. With the completion of the Civil War marking the end of slavery, Nanny moved to Florida and eventually put her daughter, Leafy, in school. Leafy, however, is raped by her school teacher at age 17 and gives birth to Janie, whom she soon abandons in favor of becoming a drunkard. Her history finished, Nanny concludes the chapter by reiterating that Janie's arranged marriage to Logan Killicks is for her own protection.