Their Eyes Were Watching God Symbolism

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  • Topic: Male, Symbols, Gender
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  • Published : August 5, 2011
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Summer Reading English IV

August 5, 2011
Tic-Tac Toe #9

Their Eyes Were Watching God features many symbols throughout Hurston’s novel; however, one symbol in particular attracts men towards Janie and creates Janie’s image and personality – her hair. Her hair is a symbol of power to her, an overwhelming presence in the eyes of men, and a strength most people don’t expect out of most women during this time. Janie’s strength and personality are clearly represented in three different ways. First is the first symbol her hair represents, whiteness. In Chapter 19, Mrs. Tuner is racist of all and anything related to “Negroes” except when the “Negroes” show a trait of whiteness. Mrs. Tuner sought Janie as a friend because of Janie’s “coffee-and-cream complexion and her luxurious hair” that showed the symbol of whiteness within Janie. She worshipped Janie since that hair brought out a sense of white power that Janie uses, which disrupts the balance between two themes within the novel – white over black, and male over female. The second meaning that Janie’s hair holds is the functionality of a phallic symbol in the novel. It’s a phallic symbol because of the way men are attracted to her hair like Walter, who was caught “standing behind Janie and brushing the back of his hand back and forth across the loose end of her braid ever so lightly so as to enjoy the feel of it without Janie knowing what he was doing” in Chapter 6. This proves the masculinity in Janie’s hair, which men want so much they’re “figuratively wallowing in it as she went about things in the store”. The phallic symbol blurred the lines between male and female, which made Jody jealous of Janie and commanded her to cover her from then on. The final symbol Janie’s hair represents is her defiance and solitude of the town’s basic standards of her hair. In the beginning of the novel, the town’s opinion showed that Janie was considered unwanted for a woman in Janie’s age to keep her hair down all the time....
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