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Janie's Hair As A Symbol For Power

833 words - 4 pages

Zora Neale Hurston was known for expressing the facets of African-American culture in her books, but her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God has elements of gender studies as well. Throughout the book, Janie’s life experiences serve as a metaphor for the historical struggle of both women and Black Americans to achieve equal rights, and various symbols throughout the book are significant in this context. Janie’s hair, in particular, is the clearest example of a symbol that represents her power and individuality. Two of the most important instances in which Hurston uses Janie’s hair as a symbol are when Janie’s hair serves as a symbol of Jody Stark’s oppression and when Janie’s hair represents her ability to have greater power than others due to its Caucasian nature.
In Janie’s marriage with Jody Starks, her hair is representative of her power when Jody represses it and when he indirectly liberates it by dying. At first, Jody draws Janie in with his own authority, self-confidence, and good looks. Janie seems infatuated with these characteristics; yet, ironically, she comes to loathe them, since she realizes that authority creates an air of condescension, self-confidence causes arrogance, and good looks eventually become mundane. Jody, in addition, seems to be extremely misogynistic and treats women like property. He accordingly believes that oppressing them as he sees fit is an acceptable manner of treatment, which is shown when he forces Janie to constantly wear a head-rag in his store: “This business of the head-rag irked her endlessly. But Jody was set on it. Her hair was NOT going to show in the store. [...] She was there in the store for him to look at, not those others” (Hurston 55). Of course, being a human, Janie withdraws emotionally because of Jody repressive attitude, and their marriage only worsens from there. A curious phenomenon happens upon Jody’s final breath, however: Janie is instantly freed and she becomes a true individual, independent of any man’s constraints. Her appearance, especially that of her hair, represents this change perfectly: “She went over to the dresser and looked hard at her skin and features. The young girl was gone, but a handsome woman had taken her place. She tore off the kerchief from her head and let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there” (87). Thus, in only a few minutes, Janie is...

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