In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston explores the effects of race and gender on developing oner’s identity. There is often a discrepancy between personal identity and the identity formed exogenously by members of society, which makes it difficult to develop a true understanding of oneself. In Hurstonr’s novel, Janie is able to move past the opinions society have of her and become the woman she wants to be after being subjected to the limitations society had placed on her for being a black woman. The story illustrates Janier’s struggle to find her own voice and realize her dreams through three marriages and the hardships of being a black woman in America in the early 20th century. Hurstonr’s symbolic use of the mule, a pear tree in blossom, and Janier’s hair illustrate the development of Janier’s womanhood and independence, as well as her ultimate triumph over the constraints of society. Despite the shackles society may try to place on an individual based on gender and race, one can still develop his or her identity.
The image of the mule appears as Nanny tells Janie that black women are the mules of the earth, meaning that they are the lowest creatures, used by others. ?De nigger woman is de mule of de world so fur as Ah can see. Ah been prayin fuh it tuh be different wid you. (Hurston 14) Hurston uses the image of the mule as a way of saying that Janier’s identity is submissive to the opinions of society. bond that of how others want her to be. Nanny projects her own fear of the instability she herself experienced as a black woman in America onto Janie. As a result, she herself attempts to mold Janie into a life that she-Nanny- believes will help her be successful in life. However, Nannyr’s views which are shaped by society, in turn, suppress Janier’s identity. Janie then becomes a tool and object for Nanny to use, similar to that of a mule.
During Janier’s time with Joe, he puts her high up on a pedestal so that she is inaccessible to the other men who are pining after her. When Janie is forced to conceal one of the greatest aspects of herself her hair she has no hope of flourishing under Joer’s domineering hand. Janie’s reluctance to conceal her hair indicates her desire to be loved and accepted by the community as who she is–all aspects of her personality included–rather than as who different individuals want her to be. After Joe dies, Janie goes to the mirror, sees the woman she has become and tears the kerchief from her head and [lets] down her plentiful hair (Hurston 106).
She takes in the image of her true self wildly independent but ultimately ties her hair back up again. This time, however, it is her decision to do so. Joer’s death also frees Janie from any inclinations to herself to otherr’s belief of how she should be. From this point on, Janie decides to live for herself and embrace the power that lies within as a women. A blossoming pear tree is used to symbolize Janier’s transition from budding sexuality to womanhood. The pear tree metaphor is used when Hurston describes Janier’s marriage to Joe Starks; Janie realizes that a husband must love and respect his wife, as a bee respects the blossom it pollinates. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom;… So this was a marriage! (Hurston 34)
There is a symbiotic relationship between a bee and a flower, just as there should be a symbiotic relationship between husband and wife. Both parties benefit in the relationship in some fashion. For Janie, she expects to be loved and empowered by the relationship not to be smothered by it. However, society views that women should be submissive and defer to their husbandr’s judgment prevents Janie from confronting Joe about the abuse he inflicted on her until the end of their relationship. Based on the time, a man controlled the identity of his wife. There were not equals. It is only after Janie truly embraces her womanhood and individual spirit that she can let true love into her life.
As Hurston describes it, people are the mule of the world, but they also contain the power to overcome the burden placed on them by society and gain control over themselves. In the face of an obstacle that seeks to dampen oner’s individuality and identity, one can rise above the constrained views of the people around them and embraced the person they want to truly be.
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