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"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Hurston
Book Review: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of Zora Neal Hurston's most successful books as it exploits double consciousness, intersectionality and the gender and race discrimination of African American women during the middle of the 20th century.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes were Watching God exposes the intersectionality of racial and gender identities while tracking the life of Janie Starks as she progresses from young womanhood to her matronly years. Janie is taught that she must marry in order to survive, a tactic commonly used by African American women during the Reconstruction Era.
Hurston explodes the topics of freedom and independence of African American women under the eyes of the white and black communities. Janie struggles to identify with her black community because she wants to be a strong, independent woman but she is put down by physical and emotional abuse of her husbands throughout the years.
As she ages, she realizes that it is not a husband that gives her love, but it is her finding of true love in Tea Cake that shows her that it is okay to be a sexual and powerful woman regardless of the hissing society behind her back.
Hurston successfully examines racial identity and gender identity with respect to how powerful they can be on identity formation when they come together.
The negative light of this novel is the stereotypes of the black man beating his wife and the overly sexual nature of black women. However, without portraying those stereotypes, Hurston would not be able to demonstrate the need for change within the black community with regards to women.
Symbols in the Novel
Here are the main symbols of the story:
The Mule: represents all African American women and ultimately Janie. The mule is used to carry all of the weight and is never praised for its work. Upon the freeing of the mule in Eatonville, Janie is freed of the constraints of being a woman and of being a wife.
Janie's Hair: Janie's hair is long, black, and stunning. Men cannot take their eyes off of it. It symbolizes her female sexuality and independence.
The Pear Tree: The pear tree symbolizes the perfect marriage. Janie's first two husbands desecrate Janie's idea of the bee fertilizing and caring for the pear tree in order for it to blossom, while Tea Cake takes the utmost care of it, thus being the perfect man for her pear tree. Very provocative.