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Their Eyes Were Watching God Symbols and Key Facts

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As is the case in many novels with strong African-American characters, hair plays an important role in Their Eyes Were Watching God. To Janie, her hair is a symbol of power and identity. It is representative of her individuality and strength in three ways.

Initially, her hair is representative of her independence and refusal to conform. At the start of the novel, the townspeople are overhead proclaiming that only undignified women wear their hair down. Secondly, her hair acts a phallic symbol. Her braid is often the source of controversy, with people regarding it as masculine. Lastly, her hair is straight – regarded as a white trait – a characteristic that some believe provides her with a sense of privilege often only reserved for white males.

The Pear Tree

The pear tree is representative of Janie’s pure views of nature. In the way that the bees interact with the flowers of the pear tree, Janie sees a perfect and natural moment, something that is akin to blissful harmony. She chases after this ideal throughout the duration of the novel.

The Hurricane

The hurricane is said to represent that true fury of nature. It acts in a manner that is the true opposite of the pear tree. Instead of bringing life, it destroys it. The hurricane causes the characters to question their place in the world. It is not a source of beauty, it is a source of destruction, one that makes those affected question whether God cares for them at all. Janie wonders why or how she will ever survive in a world that is filled with so much pain and chaos.

Key Facts

Complete Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Author: Zora Neale Hurston

Work: Novel and film

Original Language: English

Time of writing: 1937, Haiti

Date of initial publication: September 1937

Publisher: JB Lippincott

Narrator: Anonymous, person of Southern decent

Setting: 1920 or 1930, Rural Florida

Primary Character: Janie

Foreshadowing: In Chapter 1, the audience learns that Janie has been away from the town of Eatonville for quite some time. It is noted that she ran away with a much younger man and the two married. Janie shares the details of her life with her friend, Pheoby. Her story starts when she tells Pheoby that Tea Cake is ‘gone’ and so her story begins.

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