Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Journey Into Womanhood

Richard Wright, an influential black writer, stated in 1937 that their Eyes Were Looking God had no theme, message or thought. Wright’s strong critique exemplified a nationis attitude to Zora Neale Hurstonis second book. African-Americans were satisfied by the iwhite manisi stereotypes of African American culture. This book also contained the humor that Caucasians see in this prejudice. The wonderful imagery, symbolism, metaphors, and thematic applications of one African-American womanis journey into womenhood and self identification in a male-dominated society was overlooked by these critics. Janie, Hurston’s dramatic, strong, and articulate character, was introduced by Hurston. Janie is best understood by either women or the inhabitants of rural Black towns. Their Eyes Were Looking at God is filled with recurring symbols such as Jannies hair, a fence gate, and a pear tree. These symbols help a young girl find self-fulfillment through her quest for love and happiness.

The pear tree is Their Eyes Were Looking God’s strongest symbol. Janie can be represented as Janie by the pear flower. She is a young girl that blossoms into a lady in spring. Hurston describes this symbolism in the first chapter. She describes Janie, as a great tree with all of her experiences, joys, and accomplishments. Dawn and doom was within the branchesi. Janie then lies under the tree and watches as the bees flower a bloom. Janie experiences an epiphany and is embraced by the thousand sister-calyxes. Evidently she is able to appreciate the beauty and processes of fertilization and reproduction in nature. Janie’s sexual urge is satisfied immediately when she kisses Johnny Taylor. Janie is caught and forced to be a woman by her Nanny. Janie marries Logan Killicks who is unattractive. Janie repeatedly refers to her ideal relationship as the blossoming pear Tree. She compares her husbands’ behavior to the harmony she observed between bees and blossoms. Janie thinks Logan is desecrating the pear tree. She doesn’t even love Logan. Tea Cake, however, is her true love. Jannie’s ideal relationship and sexual epiphany are symbolized by the pear tree. Her pear bloom with Tea Cake fades as she marries Logan Killicks.

Janiei’s quest to find self-identity is also symbolized by Janiei’s gate appearing again before a major life change. Gates are often associated with new episodes or steps in life. In Their Eyes Were watching God Hurston, Janie is often seen near or deep contemplating a gate during key events. Her journey to becoming a woman requires many steps. Janie, for instance, was a child when she kissed Johnny Taylor in front of Nanny’s gate. Janie was also forced to become a woman at that point because she had never left her childhood. Janie asks Nanny about love after Logan’s marriage. Nanny says that marriage doesn’t define love. Janie stood over the gate looking up to O Janians first dream. She became a womani (24). Janie sees the future as a chance to fulfill her dream. The gate is a sign of Jannie’s new beginnings or a new path on her journey to womanhood. Logan threatens Janie that she will kill her for refusing to shovel manure. Janie ran out to meet Joe Starks at the estate’s entrance. She has a second marriage that fails. However, Tea Cake finds another gate to Janiei’s life. He is the only one who actually walked through the gate. As such, the gate has become an iconic symbol for Janieis life.

Jannie’s beautiful, flowing, and often wavy hair is a symbol of her freedom or constraint in her marriage. Janie wore ribbons in hair as a child and was treated with dignity and respect by her peers. She is innocent and unblemished in her youth. Then she meets Johnny Taylor. Logan Killicks was also a complimentor of Jannies hair in her first marriage. However after she had stopped admiring Janie’s long black hair and started to question it, Logan lost his respect for her (25). Logan starts to criticize Janie, overwork her and make insults to her. Janie, who is married to Joe Starks has her hair tied in rags. Also, her husband insists that her hair must be kept down at all times while she’s in the store. Starks restricts Janie’s movement and hairstyles, showing his jealousy and possessive nature. Joe has died. She looks in the mirror to see if she is still alive. A handsome young woman was her replacement. She took off the O-shaped kerchief and let her hair down. It was all therei (83). Janie feels relieved and free with Jodyis’s passing. Janie decides to burn the head rag in chapter 10. Janie meets Tea Cake, his true love. Tea Cake is different than his predecessors because Janie allows Janie into his life. As he combs Jannie’s hair, he admires it. It is so beautiful. It feels very soft under the mah faceii (99). Tea Cake, who views Janie’s hair as a symbol of his character, grooms her. Janie finally returns to Tea Cake’s adventures and Hurston shows Janie that she is self-sufficient. Janie describes her hair as a thick, black, wavy rope, which flies around her waist like a plumei and then unravels in the wind as a plumei (2).

Hurston’s portrayal of an independent, strong African-American heroine who searches for her identity and freedom away from sexist prejudice in Their Eyes Were watching God stunned critics. Janie Crawford’s transformation into womanhood is marked by her love for a pear blossom, passing through life’s gates, as well as the liberation of the hair. Janie blossomed and found her love in two hard marriages. Hurston is a national hero who was an example to all women.


  • stanleybyrne

    Stanley Byrne is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher. He has degrees in education and political science from the University of Notre Dame and has worked in various teaching and research positions since he graduated in 2014. He is the author of a number of educational blog posts and has written for Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Salon.