Symbolism in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Literary Essay Sample for You

Published: 2022-02-18
Symbolism in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Literary Essay Sample for You
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God Symbolism
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1285 words
11 min read

Zora Neale Hurston utilizes diverse symbol in her novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God" to express multidimensional socio-cultural phenomena affecting the American society. Symbols are the figurative objects, characters and colours to express abstract idea within the literature of the social conceptualization. Despite their literal and conventional nature, they reveal the deeper and meaning of socio-cultural and economic events, characters and occurrences. In the novel, Hurston portrays the protagonist, Janie's struggle as she strives to achieve her fundamental objectives of love in life that become too complex to explain in literal words. She shorts to utilizing the available resources and objects to help her express and explain her difficult experiences. Therefore, the examination depicts the multidimensional symbols ranging from natural to human symbols that Hurston utilizes in her novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God" to express diverse ideas.

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Natural symbols

The Hurricane

Hurricane is a natural phenomenon that is characterized by destruction, obliteration and devastation. Hurston uses the hurricane to symbolize the annihilation characterized in the protagonist, Janie's life. It portrays the overwhelming destruction in which the human being has no control over but to watch as significant socio-economic phenomena fall. For instance, in Janie's third marriage, she lives happily with her husband because she has ignored the social and traditional disapproval of her choices. However, within a few years, problems and tragedy strike and destroys everything (Dilbeck, 103). The overwhelming hurricane disrupts the contemporary socio-cultural life and activity blinding her from advancing. The hurricane represents the chaotic and capricious characterization found in the world that makes the characters, Janie, Tea Cake and her friends to question the significance of life, their place and role in the world when it keeps facilitating adverse consequences and destruction in their lives. Further, the hurricane portrays the pain, agony and anguish prevalent in the world in which humans cannot control or avoid but only complain and call of supernatural being, God. Therefore, the author uses the hurricane to represent the abrupt transition from Janie's idyllic life with Tea Cake that rapidly rushes to Cake's death.

The Pear Tree

The pear tree represents Janie's perfect views of nature. She views the tree as depicting the bittersweet perception of life she yearns to achieve. As she watches the blossom of the pear tree's fruits and the nourishing feeling of its shades, she imagines a happily ever after relation. In the bees' interaction with the pear tree flowers, she notices an erotic image characterized by passionate interaction, and blissful harmony (Lamothe, 70). For instance, as she watches the bees gathering pollen and transmit them to the tree stigma and placental features, she acknowledges her independent glossy leaves and bursting buds. Similarly, it represents the far-off mystery of the natural world, with which she longs to connect. The author establishes that Janie struggles to find a relationship that exemplifies the mutual, perfect and blissful interaction between the bees and the pear tree. She depicts that in Janie's first marriage, the tree looked desecrated, which symbolized the dissatisfaction and loveless and passionless features that characterized the relation. Despite Julies struggle to propel the progression of the relation, it failed, and she wishes to have an ideal love life in which passion does not result in possession or domination but an effortless union and interaction between the two parties. When she meets Tea Cake, he is depicted as a crushing scent that the pear tree blossoms. Therefore, Hurston depicts Janie's elusive desire for a Utopian life.

The Horizon

Hurston uses the horizon to depict the good and calm life of the future. It is used to represent the better things, the possibility of change and perhaps an improvement. Despite the daily challenges and disappointments of life, the future characterized with the horizon is bright and encouraging. The horizon is mentioned in the opening paragraph of Their Eyes Were Watching God that ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. It depicts the human ambition and desire for a promising and successful future (Hemenway, 45). Moreover, the frequent uncertainty has significantly deprived the characters the good life, but they continue to be hopeful. Hurston adds that as the ocean is exemplified with rising and falling tides, Janie's life is also exemplified with adequate challenges that she must transcend to achieve relationship serenity and peace. Further, the horizon symbolizes the ultimate human freedom and opportunity that human seeks to gratify their desire. Janie strives to reach the horizon as she consistently dreams of a perfect relationship with symbiotic interaction rather than dominance and possession (Pfattheicher, & Johannes, 570). As she adventures different relations with men, she finally reaches her horizon when she meets Tea Cake, who treats her with passion, love and compassion. Therefore, through the horizon, the author urges that people should not lose focus on achieving their dreams irrespective of the diverse challenges.

Human Symbolism


Janie's hair is a symbol of her unconventional identity and power. Hurston uses the hair to depict her strength and individuality as she transcends above the socio-cultural criticism. For instance, after Joe's death, she becomes free from his oppression as he forced her to cover her long hair with the head rag. However, her independence and defiance of insignificant social standards are depicted when she refuses to continue covering it. The community's gossips and discrimination at the very beginning of the novel indicate that it is deliberated shameful, inappropriate and degrading for a woman of Janie's age to wear her hair down (Lee, 59). For instance, when she refused to succumb to the prejudicing social customs and traditions, it reflected her strong, defiant spirit. Hurston also uses Janie's hair as a phallic symbol as her braid portrays the typical masculine supremacy and influence, which blurs gender boundaries and thus threatens the society. The straightness of her hair also symbolizes her whiteness and the Caucasian heritage that inspires Mrs. Turner to worship her challenging to the contemporary white male power that she employs that assists her in causing disruption of the traditional power relationships (Hurston, 9). Therefore, despite being a woman in a male-dominated society, Janie defies socio-cultural discrimination, prejudice, marginalization, and seeking freedom and independence.

In conclusion, Zora Neale Hurston's novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God" portrays the everyday struggle of many individuals in the society. She depicted a significant truth and challenges people face as they try to achieve happiness while concerning themselves with the socio-cultural criticism. Through the antagonist character, Janie, Hurston ascertains that ignoring the negative, adverse critics and constant whining of the community if the primary method to facilitate individual's happiness and freedom as the society is designed to repress, oppress and discriminate individuals the wanes its effect. Therefore, through the multidimensional symbols like the horizon, the pear tree, hurricane, and the hair, Hurston have displayed the massive challenge that must be conquered to achieve freedom and happiness in a relationship.

Works Cited

Dilbeck, K. "Symbolic Representation of Identity in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God." The Explicator, vol. 66, no. 2, 2008, pp. 102-104, doi:10.3200/expl.66.2.102-104.

Hemenway, R. "The Personal Dimension in Their Eyes Were Watching God." New Essays on Their Eyes Were Watching God, pp. 29-50, doi:10.1017/cbo9780511570346.003.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper & Row, Publishers, 1990.

Lamothe, D. "Vodou Imagery, African American Tradition, and Cultural Transformation in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God." Zora Neale Hurston, Haiti, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, pp. 69-94, doi:10.2307/j.ctv47w2rj.8.

Lee, Loren. "The African-American female body as spectacle in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God." Pursuit-The Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Tennessee 6.1 (2015): 13.

Pfattheicher, Stefan, and Johannes Keller. "The watching eyes phenomenon: The role of a sense of being seen and public selfawareness." European Journal of Social Psychology 45.5 (2015): 560-566.

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