Nature’s Role In Their Eyes Were Watching God

Historically, women have always been associated with nature. Whether it be the uncontrollable side which contains natural disasters or the nurturing side which is commonly birth-giving and growth of plants; nature has always connected to women. In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston subtly uses nature as an element in her work. She creates a mental image in readers heads of a growing pear tree, a disastrous hurricane and a lush everglade. In a few articles I have read, I learned the importance of the environment and how it connects with women. “Mother nature” experiences domination and torment at the hands of humans, but in the same way, women have experienced similar abuse throughout history. Both are exploited yet claim to be valued; women and nature continue to persevere and grow. Ecofeminist Susan Dobscha writes, “The domination of women (as studied in traditional feminism) parallels the domination of nature and that this mutual domination has led to environmental destruction by the controlling patriarchal society” (Dobscha). Janie Mae Crawford is a prime example of that; she discovers herself, her body and ultimately reaches self-discovery in the novel. The Pear tree, the everglades and the hurricane serve as allusions to Janie’s inevitable transformation in the novel, with her physical body and within herself as she reaches self-actualization.

Under a blossoming pear tree in Florida, a young Janie Mae Crawford dreams of a world that will answer all her questions. This begins Janie’s journey toward herself and toward the farthest horizon open to her. At the age of sixteen, Janie finds herself enthralled with a beautiful blooming pear tree and naive of the world around her. Janie’s first encounter with the tree shows readers how young and naive she is. This tree is also on its pathway of growth, “from barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to the snowy virginity of bloom.

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It stirred her tremendously” (Hurston 10). The tree, and the accompanying birds and bees that Janie is so enamored with as well, is of course a metaphor for Janie’s own blooming into womanhood and sexual maturity. Hurston makes no mistake in her language. She connects nature taking its course, and details a blossoming tree but it can be seen as a metaphor for Janie’s blossoming body. It is no coincidence that Janie’s experience with the pear tree coincides with her first kiss and her grandmother’s own realization that Janie is now a woman in desperate need of a man who would be able to support her (Hurston 10-14). She is deeply moved by the images of fertile springtime and the bloom of the tree evokes a bloom in Janie’s life too. It arouses her fantasies of love and passion, and brings about the awakening of her sexuality. Janie says this to emphasize the idea of perfect identification: “Oh to be a pear tree –any tree in bloom!”(14). Janie literally wants to be the pear tree and bloom herself! This reminds me of a 2004 study written about by Colin Capaldi in which he says, “Mayer and Frantz described connectedness to nature as a “measure of an individual’s’ trait levels of feeling emotionally connected to the natural world” (Capaldi).

Janie’s modern vision of female sexual autonomy is represented by her pear tree vision, idealizing a relationship in which passion does not result in domination, but rather in a beautiful union of individuals. This strong desire of having marriage, imitating a union found in nature, was Janie’s ultimate goal. The pear tree thus symbolizes Janie’s sexual epiphany. However, Janie misconstrues the natural harmony she witnessed under the pear tree with romance, which reflects her immature consciousness. Janie likens her experience under the pear tree to marriage and begins her quest for happiness through relationship. Eventually, the mature Janie “saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches” (10). Clearly, the tree symbolizes Janie’s life which is now in leaf rather than in bloom. “Her initial interpretation of the tree is essentially static, focused on the social institution of marriage. Her later, more sophisticated vision centers on the balancing of opposites, ‘things done and undone’. Janie attempts to harmonize her daily life with her ideal image derived from the pear tree” (Kubitschek,112). The pear tree thus symbolizes the tranquil aspects of nature.

We see nature taking course again in Their Eyes with the fertile Everglades. When Janie’s third husband Tea Cake takes her down to the Everglades, the area is fertile and blossoming with “ground so rich that everything went wild” (Hurston 129). And while in the beginning life for Janie and Tea Cake is good and they are prospering both financially and emotionally, eventually the area is tragically devastated and destroyed by a massive hurricane. The destruction of the Everglades can also be seen as symbolic of the natural order of the world and of the changes women and nature partake in. In many ways the tragedy that befalls the Everglades is a metaphor for all three of Janie’s marriages. All three, or at least the last two, begin as ripe and blossoming romances, only to have those romances end tragically, with either a loss of love, death or both. Her marriages have taught her so much about herself and she is challenged through them. Janie has “done been tuh de horizon and back.” She has learned what love is; she has experienced life’s joys and sorrows; and she has come home to herself in peace. This powerful story, pays quiet tribute to a black woman, who, though constricted by the times, still demanded to be heard.

The destructive and powerful hurricane that strikes towards the end of the book is used as an element of the fury of nature, it tells us anything can change within a second in Janie’s life and nature. Hurston uses nature to strip the characters of the feeble power of material possessions. Confronted by the awesome strength of the hurricane, people find themselves vying for safety with fleeing animals. Houses in the quarters and big houses alike are flooded and blown away, proving that nature does not discriminate. As such the storm functions as a destroyer of human power, and as an eraser of artificial distinctions and hierarchies. The hurricane symbolizes a sense of humility in the recognition of how small and powerless we humans are, and reveals the ridiculousness and irrelevance of the existence of race, gender and social class. Throughout the novel, Janie’s attempt to attain personal identification with nature is apparent. She believes that nature is flawless, and that self-fulfillment is only attainable through the unhindered pursuit of nature-imbued feelings.

But the hurricane shows the other side of nature, in contrast to the pear tree which is a positive symbol. Whereas the pear tree stands for beauty, pleasure and harmony, the hurricane demonstrates how chaotic and capricious the world can be. “Nature contains both the pear tree and the hurricane; communities have both celebrations and brawls; individuals have both compassion and more violent feelings” (Kubitschek, 110). Janie realizes this chaotic nature of the universe and the futility of struggling against it, and ultimately achieves perfect accord with nature which was her fundamental ambition. So, the hurricane symbolizes the completion of Janie’s individuation. In the book Janie states: “If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don’t keer if you die at dusk. It’s so many people that never seen de light at all” (159). By imparting this philosophy to the reader Hurston gives a direction to Janie’s journey and a powerful message to the reader. Life experiences are universal in nature and there is no set path. All anyone can hope to achieve is the self.

Janie’s transformation is symbolized through nature and Zora Neale Hurston demonstrates its power and how it connects to women. Janie’s transformation begins as a young girl sitting under the pear tree, as a married woman in the everglades with her love, and ends with the powerful yet purifying hurricane. Nature, similar to women, suffer but that will never stop their power; the pear tree continued to grow and the hurricane eventually passes. As Janie’s character is developed in the novel, forces of nature symbolize her growth and perseverance in significant ways. The novel’s lasting moment demonstrates what Janie does throughout the story – taking her difficult past in and molding into a strong, wise woman as a result. Hurston displays Janie’s development in one powerful passage, Janie “pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see”(183). The end of a novel focuses on Janie’s self-discovery and transformation into a strong woman, Janie survives with her soul – made resilient by her struggles.

Comparison Of Modern Hero Thor And Odysseus

History tells us how one becomes a hero and how unique their journey is. This essay emphasis on comparing the journeys of two well-known heroes, a modern hero Thor and Odysseus a great hero from Greek Mythology. Odysseus is also named “a man of many turns” and Thor is known for “god of thunder” both are endured for a long, tough journey to find wisdom. Thor is a hammer using god who associates with lightning, thunder, and storm with a purpose of protecting mankind. He is expelled from Asgard by his father who then goes on with his journey to prove to his father that he is worthy of his powers along with his father’s throne. Odyssey, a poem of the tales told of Odysseus’ adventures after he left the burnt ruins of Troy and his ultimate homecoming after many years in wandering and going back to his kingdom to his family (A Journey through Greek Mythology). Both of them have similarities with their journeys in getting back to the homeland through their “Rite of Passage” which includes the heroes leaving the ordinary world and entering the dark world which then results in overcoming ruinous forces, and finally returning with new found wisdom.

Thor was cast out from his kingdom for his arrogance and unwillingness to follow his father’s orders and thus, was sent to earth to live with humans who were mortal. This is the first rite of passage in a hero’s journey (“leaves the ordinary world”). Once he realized that he has no way back home and he had no powers with his hammer being lost, on earth, he encounters with three scientists who taser Thor due to his built up aggressiveness. While Thor struggles to gain his powers back, he fails to do so and gives up finally. This is the second step of the rite of passage of Thor entering the dark world. He hoped in returning to Asgard to stop his devious brother who had snatched the throne to work and help the Frost Giants who once again had reclaimed their former glory to destroy Asgard.

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He ends up falling in love with one of the scientists, and she then teaches him much-needed lessons to become the man his father once hoped for him to be. During the attack on earth from Thor’s brother’s commands, the destroyer threatens to harm the people on earth. But with selflessness, Thor asks his brother to leave the humans alone and sacrifices himself for humans to be protected and be safe. He fights his brother until he admits his defeat. This is the third rite of passage of overcoming destructive forces. Thor learned the meaning behind being a hero and reclaims his rightful throne. This is the last rite of passage (when he returned with new wisdom).

Odysseus was known for his powerfulness being a warrior in the Trojan War. As a hero, this man is known for his intellect and resourcefulness. He is also named the “go-to guy” for tasks when high levels of strategy, creativity, and deviousness was much needed (A Journey through Greek Mythology). Odysseus had an idea to design the Trojan Horse which was a trick that he had won the war for the Greeks. With the help of his patron goddess, Athena by his side, Odysseus meets many challenges with his courage, strength, and intellect by his side. Then, Odysseus leaves the burning ruins of Troy to carrying it back home. He and his men traveled to the Land of the Cyclops for food and water and ended up stealing from the town by tricking and stabbing the Cyclops’ eye out. After getting away safely, Odysseus gloated with his success and gave his true name to the Cyclops. The injured Cyclops calls his father Poseidon to send a curse on Odysseus who was involved with him in having for many years of sadness, trouble, and wandering.

This is would be one of the examples of Odysseus as a journey of a hero while entering the dark world. While reading more about him, it was vivid to know that he also had to face great challenges in the lands of Aeolia, Laestrygonians, Circe’s Land, a visit to Hades, encountering sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, Island of the Sun God and Calypso, Scheria and then finally his arrival at Ithaka. The challenges he had faced made him face all the challenges that Poseidon cursed him with and after all his many years of being in trouble all alone with him being on someone else’s ship made him go back home to his family. His works led him to win back his rightful place as the king with his family until one day, Odysseus was defending his herds from his unknown son who at the end shot Odysseus with an arrow and took his life. He was warned that his death would come from the sea.

The journey is at times started by a crossing over to a world of dark forces where supernatural creatures such as demons, Cyclops, monsters and other enemies of the hero are encounters who are on their own quest. Odysseus is from a distant era whereas Thor is from a modern time of heroes but converge with the similarities of in their mindsets in getting back to their homeland where they belong. From my position view, Thor and Odysseus’ biggest flaw being in character was their arrogance.

Which lead them to many worse situations that could have been stopped or prevented. So their journey in getting back home became much harder and longer than expected. Both, Thor and Odysseus share similar traits which are courage, confidence, nobility, battle intelligence, powerful physically and a desire for glory. Both of these main characters show a different version of heroism with Odyssey showing a humble and ideal one and on the other hand, Thor being more of an egocentric. Both of these heroes face their challenges in dealing with and triumphant with their enemies. Thor defeats the “Destroyer” and Odysseus defeats the Cyclops, sirens and many others.

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