Symbols in Their Eyes Were Watching God

In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, many different symbols are used to express Janie’s longing for love and acceptance. Each symbol is related to the condition of Janie’s life at that time. Janie is very beautiful and innocent to the ways of men and sexuality. Janie has her first sexual feelings one afternoon beneath a pear tree. She sees a “bee sinking into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister calyxes arch to meet the loving embrace (Hurston 11)” and she comments on how happy the tree must be to have such a feeling.
Janie believes she is privy to a “revelation (Hurston 11)” and she thinks “So this [is] a marriage (Hurston 11)! ” The pear tree and the bee working together in harmony represent new love and desire for Janie. She realizes she has neither in her life but she thinks about the possibilities for the future and she “[feels] a pain remorseless sweet that [leaves] limp and languid (Hurston 11). ” Janie has been sheltered her whole life and is seeking to feel some of what she saw with the pear tree and the bee. She asks herself “where are the singing bees for [me] (Hurston 11)? Not being able to come up with an answer Janie goes to the “front gate… waiting for the world to be made (Hurston 11). ” Janie sees Johnny Taylor and desire from what she sees wells up in her and she kisses him over the gate. The inside of the gate for Janie represents restriction and separation.
Janie’s first kiss is with Johnny in the confines of her yard. Janie’s grandmother, Nanny, sees the kiss and forces Janie to marry Logan Killicks. The gate also represents seeking for Janie. After her marriage fails, Janie “begins to stand by the gate and expect things (Hurston 25). It is at this gate that she meets Joe “Jody” Stark. Janie leaves “out of the front gate and turned south (Hurston 32)” as she leaves Logan for Joe “the change was bound to do her good (Hurston 32). ” Janie marries Joe Stark and he becomes the mayor of Eatonville. Joe has a very different idea of life for Janie. He wants her to sit and be proper, to be seen and not heard. Janie becomes a clerk in his store. The town gathers on the porch of the store and Janie listens but does not join in the conversations. She is required to be inside working. The porch represents exclusion for Janie and the community for everyone else.

Janie realizes that “the wife of the mayor was not just another woman…she couldn’t get but so close to most of them in spirit (Hurston 46). ” On this porch, an unusual thing happens. One of the townsmen’s mules ( Matt Bonner’s mule) was getting old and Matt did not treat him very well. He did not feed the mule often. The mule got loose and the townspeople caught up to him and were “goosing him in the sides (Hurston 56)” for fun. Janie got upset at the little “regard for helpless things (Hurston 57),” that the townspeople were showing.
Mayor Stark saw this and bought the mule so he could rest. The mule in the story represents Janie. Although the mule was old, tired, and a source for ridicule among the town the horse still had a “more spirit left than the body (Hurston 56). ” After Mayor Stark dies, Janie sees life brand new. She starts to dress differently. She wears her hair free. She socializes with the town. Janie also falls in love again. She meets a younger man named Vergible Woods known as “Tea Cake. ” Tea Cake represents inclusion, the unknown, and unconditional love for Janie.
Janie was now socializing with the town but she still was not included. Tea Cake asks her to play checkers and she is so excited. “Somebody thought it natural for her to play. [That] was even nice (Hurston 96). ” She even compares him to her longing. She thinks that he “could be a bee to her blossom —- a pear tree blossom in the spring (Hurston 106). ” Janie goes on to marry Tea Cake and they have some bumps along their road but Janie ultimately finds what she was searching for under the pear tree.

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