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“Their eyes were watching God” Literary Analysis

Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their eyes were watching God” is a famous and interesting story which significantly uses figurative language to bring about the plot and motifs depicted in the narrative where symbolism is the key element. The main characters in the tale are Janie Mae Crawford, Tea Cake, Joe Starks, Logan Killicks, Nanny Crawford, Phoeby Watson, and Leafy Crawford. It significantly points the African-American social and political life where Janie, the protagonist fights along with the values imposed to her by other people as a way of obtaining the spiritual fulfillment. The narrator uses past tense and an affirming and sympathetic tone towards the protagonist who appears to have a strong desire for freedom and social belonging in the community. The story’s setting seems to be in the rural areas of Florida during the early twentieth century more likely around the 1920s. In this paper, symbolism is the key aspect to be put in consideration in analyzing Zora Neale Hurston’s work “Their eyes were watching God” with regards to Janie’s hair, hurricane, death as well as the pear tree and the Horizon.

To start with hair as a symbol in Neale Hurston’s story, it signifies Janie Crawford’s eccentric identity and power. Throughout the narrative, the protagonist is portrayed to be independent and rebellious to the community’s cultural norms and beliefs. Looking at the peoples’ values in the town at the start of the story, it is inappropriate for women especially those of Janie’s age wear hair down. However, Janie Crawford goes against the norms as she perfectly wears her hair down signifying her rebellious and strong spirit. The author reveals Janie’s power in living her life as she wished without the concern of others will say or do to stop her dreams of having independence as a woman. Initially, her grandmother’s overprotective and culture drove nature facilitated Janie’s first marriage to Logan Killicks who was a farmer and older exceptionally older. Janie Crawford’s need for liberation resulted to termination of their relationship as she did not find romance and independence as she looked forward into her marriage.

Also, Janie’s hair acts as a phallic symbol as it is significantly depicted in phallic standing and it serves as a symbol of ordinary masculine authority and influence which is beyond gender limitations regarding the traditional customs. It is postulated by her action of threatening Joe Starks her second husband who had significant political power in the community and had the beliefs Janie was supposed to live according to his ways and dignity as a mayor’s wife. “You sho loves to tell me whut to do, but Ah can’t tell you nothin’…” (Neale, page 27). Moreover, the protagonist’s hair represented whiteness due to its straightness as this was prevalent with the native white people and unusual to the African-Americans. Her hair making depicts the white male power that Janie exerts, hence the capability of fighting against the traditional power relations that facilitated female chauvinism and black segregation. An excellent example is her act of addressing Joe in the presence of town residents in an insulting manner suggesting that she was exhausted of the biased way of living where she did not have rights as a woman in her relationship.

The horizon and the pear tree are significant aspects that represent Janie’s perfect view about nature. Janie observes the bees’ interaction with flowers of the pear tree in a remarkable way regarding it to as a perfect moment in nature which is full of delightful harmony, suggestive energy, and adoring interaction. This is evident throughout the book regarding all her values, beliefs and way of doing things to live her life in a perfect regardless of the natural and cultural obstacles. She constantly moves out of one relationship to the other throughout her life to seek the desired freedom and romance from the beginning of the story to end where she had found joy with Take Cake as her husband. Additionally, the horizon signifies an indication of the natural universe that Janie longs to get connected with. During her marriage with Joe, she portrayed the interest of socially interacting with the public to create a positive affiliation as the mayor’s wife, but humiliation follows after Joe’s criticism. “The novel deals extensively with sexism, the struggle of a woman to be regarded as a person in a male-dominated society…” (Walker, page 520). Janie persistently fought for her autonomy, dignity, and position as a woman resulting in separation with the mayor who later after their disagreement fell sick and died. Janie’s soul rested after finding joy in her relationship with Tea Cake as she hauls in of her horizon “like a great fishnet” postulating that she has attained the harmony she desired with nature since the momentous time under the pear tree.

Hurricane is another significant occurrence in Neale Huston’s narrative that represents the devastating violence of nature which is contrary to the previous discusses an aspect of the horizon and the pear tree that stands for desire and beauty. In this instance, the hurricanes depict how unpredictable and chaotic the world can be when it comes to the issues of social satisfaction. It significantly leaves the characters inquisitive of who they are, their role in the community and their place in the world. The personal nature well characterized by lack of direction, unconsciousness and deprived conscience as well as extreme destruction leads to uncertainty among the characters. It creates the concern of whether God loves and cares about them and whether they are fundamentally in conflict with the surrounding nature. The community represented in the story are surprised on how it will be possible to survive in the world full of pain and chaos. For instance, looking at Janie’s life as illuminated in the story, she undergoes suffering and victimization starting from the action of being forced to marry Logan Killicks, mistreatment by Joe and the demise of her two subsequent husbands. “Janie’s self-defense against Tea Cake, which results in his death…is only a part of the journey” (Hawkes, page 3).

In “Their eyes were watching God” novel symbolism is a well-known literary device that the author has significantly used to create the plot of the story and bringing up other relevant themes such as gender role as well as love and marriage among other motifs that constitutes the narrative. Janie postulated as a determined character who sticks to her principles who objects silence in the power of male counterparts and seeks equality in every measure to achieve the desire of ‘Pear tree’ in life. The death of her spouses reveals the world’s inevitable difficulties, but her reaction submissiveness and positive reaction to her dreams and thoughts made her remain strong, independent and focused. Neale Hurston’s work reflects the ordinary society where women are deprived of power and regarded as inferior to men, instigating the essence of advocating equality and adopting the modernization as it enhances liberty and self-actualization.

Work CitedHawkes, DeLisa D. “Self-Realization in a Restricted World: Janie’s Early Discovery in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The Journal of Traditions & Beliefs 4.1 (2014): 5.


Walker, S. Jay. “Zora Neale Hurston’s” Their Eyes Were Watching God”: Black Novel of Sexism.” Modern Fiction Studies 20.4 (1974): 519-527.

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