Their Eyes Were Watching God

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In Zora Neale Hurston’s wonderful coming-of-age novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, we follow the protagonist Janie through her evolving journey from a dependent, young girl who searches far and wide for love and respect to an independent, strong woman no longer defined by anyone else but herself.

To add color and meaning to Janie’s journey, a number of everyday imagery from nature is sprinkled throughout the story to symbolize Janie’s growth and mirror her life experiences. Plants that bear fruit like the pear tree wither and blossom right alongside the dismal and cheerful events in Janie’s life. The ocean and its waves represent the undulating and varied forms of love that Janie received others. The horizon reveals the sun and its relation to Janie’s happiness and peace. The mighty forces of the hurricane show men’s weakness and lack of power and control in the face of strength that knows no mercy. These elements of mother nature not only advance the story of Janie’s experiences, but also allows us to understand the deeper morals and lessons imbedded in her life.

The first and foremost image in nature appears very early in Janie’s life at the tender age of 16, when she first witnessed a tiny bloom opening from a pear tree’s barren branches in her Nanny’s back yard.

Ever since the first tiny bloom had opened…it had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. It stirred her tremendously. The singing she heard had nothing to do with her ears.
She becomes entranced by the blooming pear tree as she watched its interaction with nature; the way the visiting bees came to kiss the blooms, the “breath of the breeze” and the “ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight” brought Janie the realization that she too sought this ideal kind of marriage and love that nature espoused.

Oh, to be a pear tree, any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She had glossy leaves and...
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