English 3 Honors
Zora Neale Hurston has come to be regarded as an experienced writer in both African American literature and women's literature, for her use of literary elements such as symbolism, motifs and imagery. One of Hurston’s most celebrated novels is Their Eyes Were Watching God, in which she uses many examples of symbolism such as the mule, Janie’s hair, and the pear tree to illustrate to the readers the many trials of which her characters overcome. Zora Neale Hurston utilizes symbolism in Their Eyes Were Watching God to portray Janie Crawford as a character who realizes that, through hard work and perseverance, one may find out who he or she really is on the inside rather than the imperfections on the outside. In the beginning of Their Eyes, Hurston cleverly uses a pear tree as one of her many uses of symbolism. Janie discovers this pear tree after she runs away from her grandma after she gave Janie the news of her marrying Logan Killicks. Janie makes a realization about the tree when she lies beneath it,“She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister- calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was marriage!”(Hurston 11). Hurston, being an anthropologist understood the relationship between bees and pear trees thus making the comparison relevant to Janie’s experiences throughout her journey.
As Keiko Dilbeck says in his critical essay in the second paragraph, “Attuned to the Connection between man and woman, Janie desperately wants the love and affection from a man that the tree receives from the pollen-bearing bee: Oh to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom!” (11). Because Janie’s first marriage was so bad Hurston used the pear tear to emphasis the negativity: “Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree”(13). In Janie’s next marriage Hurston strengthens the use of the pear tree. Joe became jealous very easy because of the other men are looking and thinking of Janie very attentively. Janie wants to be free but Joe is keeping her from living her life as she wants to: “Janie pulled back a long time because Joe did not represent the sun-up and pollen and blooming trees.”(28). Janie finally reaches the level of the pear tree when she marries her final husband, Teacake. Janie finally has learned about herself when she meets Teacake and achieves womanhood: Teacake looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom—a pear tree blossom in the spring” (101) Teacake is not like her other previous husbands, he respects her and cherishes her for who she is and her beauty.
Equally important, one of the most used symbols that Hurston uses in Their Eyes to elaborate on Janie’s role and attitude in the story is the comparison to the mule. The use of the mule imagery indicates the way in which African American females have been mistreated and dehumanized by the society. Hurston uses the image of the mule to comment on the disparity between speech and silence in the life of Janie Crawford Killicks Starks Woods (Haurykiewicz, par. 1). Janie is compared to a mule in the first half of the book because mules also usually are looked down upon and not heard from. Janie was born from her mother being raped by her school teacher and Nanny was raped
by a white slave owner as well, this explains Janie’s very fair skin. Until the age of six, she thinks that she is white, and "the same as everyone else." When she goes to school, the other black children are jealous of Janie because she wears the Washburn children's hand-me-downs; these clothes are much nicer...
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