April 30, 2011
Modern American Fiction
Dawn and Doom in the Branches
“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was written in 1937 at the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance. It is a passionate tale of Janie Crawford’s evolving self as she goes through three marriages and a life of triumphs and tragedies. The novel starts off with Janie retracing her steps by coming home and confiding in her childhood confidant Phoebe. Upon her return to town she is mocked by judgmental porch sitters but is able to hold her head high because she has become the heroine of her own female narrative. Janie has become found her individual self by the end of this novel through the trials she went through for her self discovery. Janie’s final act in the novel was not to follow the man she loved to his grave, but to bury him and return home alone to the community she turned her back on. This novel of Janie’s discovery of her feminine identity has much self discovery through images in nature, especially the image of trees. The novel offers a penetrating view of Janie’s discovery of life through the pair tree and other trees found in the novel such as the palm trees in the court room, and the rootless tree that is her Nanny.
The first tree we come upon in the novel is found in Chapter two, “Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches” (Hurston, 8). The mature, middle-aged Janie returns to her home as a tree at the beginning of the novel. In the article “Tuh De Horizon and Back: The Female Quest in Their Eyes Were Watching God,” written by Missy Kubitschek, she states that “the tree symbolizes human life, the seasonal change in the tree, which is now in leaf rather than in bloom” (110). The tree at the beginning of the novel corresponds with Janie’s life at...