Their Eyes Were Watching God
In prose, one would rarely find a piece work in which the author uses language and poetic devices to convey a message. In prose, it is usually the story itself that conveys mood and a message. However, occasionally an author would strategically place language and poetic devices in a work making it a glorious and enticing piece to read. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel that does such action, mixing both language and poetic devices to convey a mood and message.
Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of an African-American woman name Janie living in the South during the 1900’s. The story spans over her life time starting from her youth days when she was raised by her grandmother to her quest for true love which leads her to three tragic marriages. Their Eyes Were Watching God, although having a remarkably moving story line uses many poetic elements, particularly, two metaphors: the pear tree and the mule.
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These metaphors, not only constitute a big part of the story but they also show Janie’s journey through marriage, and her resulting character as a self-aware, confident and balanced individual. The first metaphor that appears in Their Eyes Were Watching God is that of a pear tree. It appears early in the novel when the story takes us back to when Janie was 16 and she found herself captivated by a pear tree. She discovered this tree and its wonders, “From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from leaf-buds to the snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously. The pear tree symbolizes Janie’s coming of age in which she blooms into womanhood and sexual maturity. This is when she first realizes what she really wants more than anything: True love. Janie’s idealism leads her to deny her Nanny’s belief that she must marry someone just for money or just to be better off. She denies her Nanny’s lessons about what the ideal woman should be. She wants to marry someone that will make her happy and not treat her as a prize or a slave. She is in search for the intense sensuality that the bees share when they pollinate flowers.
She wishes “to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom…” so she can have the intimacy between lovers she so much desires and searches for. The pear tree can be seen as a representation of the evolution of Janie’s dream given by her Nanny to her dream of perfect true love. Janie herself “saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. ” It represents her life. It represents who she wants to be. It represents her dreams of finding a man who will be the “bee to her blossom. It is this pear tree that drives her to search for that perfect, blissful, and harmonious feeling she felt in that moment under the pear tree.
When she doesn’t find that with Logan Killicks, she moves on to Joe Starks, but with these two marriages she doesn’t find what she is searching for. It was a missing element in both of these marriages which made her realize she wasn’t happy and satisfies where she was. The pear tree serves primarily as her vision of ideal love; the ideal of finding someone whom she could have a passionate interaction and blissful harmony, the ideal of a perfect union with another person.
The second metaphor which appears is the mule metaphor. It greatly contrasts the pear tree in that the mule symbolizes the carrier of burdens. Janie’s Nanny initially introduces the mule when teaching Janie what being a woman is about. Nanny’s idealism is that “De woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see. ” It first is a relation to her racial background and personality. She is from African-American decent and even more importantly, from slave decent. Therefore, the mule is used to symbolize what Janie was going to be subject to for the rest of her life: an African-American woman subjected to men’s rule.
Furthermore, the mule represents Janie’s opposing force. The mule represents what holds her back from achieving her dream. The mule is used again when Janie marries Logan Killicks. Logan went to the market to buy a mule for Janie to plough with. The mule here represents the way that Logan treated Janie. The mule was subjected to harsh work and abuses, which parallels to the way Logan treated Janie. This leads Janie to see that she had been married as a worker and not a wife. After being subjected to much abuse, a man named Joe Starks appears.
Joe is very bothered by Janie being treated like a mule, “You behind a plow! You ain’t got no mo’ business wid a plow than a hog wid uh holiday. ” So they end up together and they marry. That’s when the mule appears again. When married to Starks, she is still subjected to same abuse as she did with Killicks. But, instead of treating her as someone who does work, he treats her as a trophy. In the anterior poach, she sees men demeaning an old mule. Agitated, she exclaims, “They oughta be shamed uh theyselves! Teasin’ dat poor brute beast lak they is!
Done been worked tuh death; done had his disposition, ruint wid mistreatment, and not they got tuh finish devilin’ ‘im tuh death. Wisht I had mah wid ‘em all! ” Clearly she is bothered by the men demeaning the old mule. This is a cause of her understanding that she has been a sort of a mule. It symbolizes her relationship with Logan and how she was treated. This agitation in Janie causes Joe to buy the mule. But instead of symbolizing something positive, it symbolized Joe’s ownership over Janie. Now, Janie is just a trophy, just like the mule, which is used to show his authoritative status additionally symbolizing the mistreatment of Janie.
These two metaphors have contrasting notions in that the pear tree represents the dream that Janie wants to achieve and the mule represents opposing force which holds Janie back from achieving that dream. But, these two metaphors work together to help Janie’s character develop into a self-aware character that achieves self-knowledge and self-fulfillment. Her experiences with the pear tree help shape her ideals with marriage and ideals with fulfillment, building a more self-aware character in what she desires. She doesn’t find that perfect fulfilling marriage with Logan nor Joe as a cause of an oppressing force.
This oppressing force is represented by the mule. The mule symbolizes her Nanny’s ideals and what her Nanny wanted her to live by. Her Nanny grew up in a world where she was oppressed and forced to do what the men wanted. Therefore she didn’t know any better and thought that that was the best life for Janie. When Janie hears what her Nanny wants, she comes into an even bigger self-realization that she must find that fulfilling feeling she had under the pear tree. This self-realization is emphasized even more greatly with the mule symbol in her first two marriages.
She didn’t want to be treated as a worker, nor as a trophy. She wanted to be happy and have freedom. Using the ideals of her Nanny and her first two marriages as symbolized by the mule and the ideals she found as symbolized by the pear tree, Janie creates her own ideals in which she rejects her Nanny’s idea of what she needs and searches for what she most desires. In the end Janie becomes the self-aware, confident, and well-balanced individual shaped by her journey that finds what she most wanted: True absolute love.