Saturday, July 9, 2011

love and sexuality in zora neala hurston

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Love, Sexuality, and Power Their Eyes Were Watching God

In many instances people have a hard time distinguishing between sex, love, and happiness. At times they are all very different, but one instance that comes to mind is when power is involved. According to a capitalist society, money and status should coincide with happiness. For Janie, the female protagonist in Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, her search for identity, love, and power is a struggle that is opened up through her sexuality. She gives up a low status with her first love-less marriage, for one in which she thought there was love, but instead it resulted in a repression of sexuality and identity. Janie’s greatest love of all lowered her social status, but there were no worries because it was a sexual and love filled relationship in which her husband became her partner. Hurston does a wonderful job telling this story by using metaphors, symbolism, and poetic descriptive language. She introduces themes through symbols, which carry out throughout the novel stressing the importance of such issues as sexuality, love, and power.

One prominent symbol of sexuality in this novel is the meaning of the pear tree. Janie would spend her days laying under the pear tree, and dreaming away of love. Her sexuality is revealed while watching the bees performing the action of pollination with the pear blossoms. This action takes over her body and brings out her sexual desire from within. It is after this that Janie kisses Johnny Taylor and is caught by her Nanny. This is the first time Janie finds her sexual desire being repressed. It is her Nanny that implants opinions of love, that later help her to realize her identity. With this kiss, her Nanny proclaims that she is now a woman, and therefore she must be married. Janie thinks otherwise basing her opinion of marriage on the love that she found under the pear tree. Her Nanny knows otherwise, and knows that marriage is a state in which a woman needs protection from sexual abuse and in financial stability. Over time love will come, but Janie does not accept this for she thinks “that the vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree,” (14).

The pollination of the pear tree symbolizes Janie’s ideal relationship and will so for the rest of her life. She describes it on page eleven by saying

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“She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from the root to the tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing delight. So this was a marriage!”

When she is married off to Logan Killick, it is a marriage out of convenience and not one out of love. This marriage crushed her dream of a love filled marriage, and shatters the thought of the pear tree. The pear tree dies and rejuvenates throughout the story as her love life changes. It grows and evolves as Janie does.

Her marriage ends as Janie meets a man by the name of Joe Starks. He is a prominent black man that could lift her out of her hole, and bring her the love she was looking for. On top of meeting Mr. Starks, Janie’s relationship with Logan was deteriorating more and more everyday. Logan even went as far as to buy a mule, one that Janie would work out in the field. You can see that in this relationship Janie refuses to work with in the fields with and for a man with whom she does not love.

The idea of working hard was out of the question, for Janie thought that she was above this. She even had an open invitation to go with Joe Starks who propositioned Janie with a better life. A woman like herself, who is so beautiful, did not deserve to be apart of the lower class, in which she would have to work. One huge element of Janie’s beauty was her long luxurious hair. It was a quality in which other African-American women were quite jealous of. On top of the straight hair she also had lighter skin, for she was a mulatto. These qualities shape her identity and sexuality, as well as her power. Janie’s hair is the first thing that attracts Joe Starks to her.

It is Janie’s hair that shows her power and the rise and fall of her relationships. When she had first married Logan, he was in awe of her and loved her hair. As their relationship dwindled and Janie falls off of the pedestal, he stops touching her hair. She regains a sense of power with the meeting of Joe Starks. We see the connection between her sexuality and power as her relationship continues with him.

Once they are together, Joe asks Janie to call him by the name of Jody, and she does so. This is the first example of his power over her. Once they reach Eatonville, Jody accepts his role as the town leader and takes it home with him. Jody is well aware of the sexuality Janie exudes, and how lovely her hair is. To take precautions and to make sure none of the local men or any men touch her hair, he makes her wear her hair tied up. Over her hair she wears a rag, for there should be no temptation. Janie was Jody’s wife and there would be no mistake of that.

Throughout their marriage Janie is treated more and more as an object and she is denied a voice in which she would be heard. There is a shift of power, but only at the end of their marriage. Jody insults her in front of everyone at the store, and for once Janie does not hold back. She realizes how things really are and insults him in the worst possible way. She insults his manhood by saying in front of everyone, “Humph! Talkin about me lookin’ old! When you pull down yo’ britches, you look lak de change uh life,” (7). Not too long after this incident did Jody die from kidney failure.

After his death, the first move Janie made was to take down her hair from the rags. On top of that she would get rid of them so that her hair could forever hang down. Her hair was also a reflection of the love Tea Cake had for her. He loved to run his hands through her hair. The difference with him and the others is that his love for her was true and not out of convenience, or objectivity, it was a love and admiration for the person Janie was. Janie’s hair is a symbol of who she is, and it is her that he loves. With Tea Cake in her life we see and feel the presence of the pear tree once again, as it blossoms with their love.

Tea Cake was more then just a great love for Janie, for he represented what she was looking for. Janie spent her entire life looking for the greatest love, and still the freedom to express her sexuality. She expresses sexuality with every movement made, and brushing of the hair. She is a female, and a sexual one for that matter. She is so sexual that the women around her are quite jealous. So much in fact that when the book opens, we are introduced to the town gossips badmouthing and exaggerating Janie’s story. There is a description that describes what the men see as Janie walk by that says, “The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip poclets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her precious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt,” ().

This novel is more or less a woman’s journey for self-identity, and the search for love. Even though she had love, Janie only felt love with Tea Cake. He gave her a sense of freedom, and self-reliance. With him she had the power to be herself, express her feelings, enjoy herself, and most of all wear her hair down. Janie’s Nanny told her that when marriage is concerned love is not necessarily there. It took her two failed marriages and one that ended so tragically to realize this. After the first two marriages Janie almost believed that the search for love and happiness was lost, but Tea Cake brought her dreams to life.

Janie is the female that wants freedom and searches for it but then gives it up to the men in her life. She needs these men to make her feel loved and attractive. As such in many cases, Janie starts off with the power in their relationships, while she keeps the men in awe of her. As the relationships move on she becomes more submissive, and her power is lost. In her first two marriages, not only was her power gone, but so was her sexual appeal. Tea Cake’s control was more out of what was expected from him by his peers as well as jealous rage. When Jody hit Janie it destroyed her, but it was different with Tea Cake. Janie knew that he loved her, and did it to show those around her that she was his woman. For the sake of love this situation was “okay.”

At the end of the story, when Janie is informing Pheoby of what happened, she describes just how much her relationship with Tea Cake affected her. To Janie, Tea Cake would never be dead, “He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking,” (1). After his death Janie could live out the rest of her life filled with love, extruding sexuality, and having power of her own life. By discovering what love was to her, she was able to have the power to hold onto Tea Cake while at the same time finding herself. She accepts her past and has taken as much as she could from her life experiences. Janie has grown old and wise, and even gives Pheoby advice that is quite prolific. She says, “two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves,” (1). Janie was a woman, and one who had suffered hardships, and heartache. She would end her life having the one thing in which she had spent so much time searching for. She had love, she loved herself, and she would love her man until the end of time. Janie’s power came from finally finding love, and proving those that said it would not happen, wrong.

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