Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God examines the life of Janie as she becomes a woman in search of love. Her search is marked with honesty, vulnerability, and a found independence, and is not unlike that of many young women coming into their own in the midst of romance and adversity. The first time I read this novel, I was the same age as young Janie, a 16 year old with a hunger for drama, a desire for passion. Janie's pear tree, meant to symbolize her womanhood as it blossoms, spoke clearly to me as a young woman. The second time I read the novel, I was drawn in by the pear tree's symbols but was also captivating by Janie's personal journey towards independent womanhood, marked but not defined by her relationships with the men in her life. The story is framed within the conversation of Phoeby and Janie, in which Janie recounts her experiences to her friend, so I attempt to keep this frame in mind through my work with the story. I have picked out moments of sincerity and glimpses of the pear tree or any other blossoming language as it appears, and use it alongside friendship and love as I have understood it through Hurston.
I chose this illustration as an element of my project because I believe it encompasses all the major thematic elements of the novel, including Janie's hair and overalls as they appear when she returns to Eatonville, her pear tree, and the hurricane that comes through the Everglades and causes the loss of Tea Cake, her last and closest romantic partner. It also reminds me of the scene after Mayor Starks' funeral in which Janie says, "''Tain't dat Ah worries over Joe's death, Phoeby. Ah jus' loves dis freedom.'" (93). For Janie, loss is cause for mourning and reverence, but in each loss she experiences throughout the novel, a renewed sense of freedom comes with it. Janie's story begins with a desire for experience, passion and romance, but, all the while, she is growing and reaching for something higher, that no man can truly satisfy. I think this image perfectly embodies that feeling.
"Oh to be a pear tree- any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her?" (11).
The pear tree is the most pertinent and easily applicable symbol of the novel. It symbolizes growth alongside the death and loss Janie encounters during her journey. The endings of each relationship do not take from Janie, but rather add to her growing independence. I have chosen to focus on this pear tree and the subsequent growth of Janie as she loves and loses. Like the pear tree, Janie moves upward and is not defined by comparisons or ownerships; even when she is not blooming, she is strongly rooted.