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Zora Neale Hurston's They Eyes Were Watching God

2315 words - 9 pages

Zora Neale Hurston's They Eyes Were Watching God

It’s no wonder that “[t]he hurricane scene in Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is a famous one and [that] other writers have used it in an effort to signify on Hurston” (Mills, “Hurston”). The final, climactic portion of this scene acts as the central metaphor of the novel and illustrates the pivotal interactions that Janie, the protagonist, has with her Nanny and each of her three husbands. In each relationship, Janie tries to “’go tuh God, and…find out about livin’ fuh [herself]’” (192). She does this by approaching each surrogate parental figure as one would go to God, the Father; she offers her faith and obedience to them and receives their definitions of love and protection in return. When they threaten to annihilate and hush her with these definitions, however, she uses her voice and fights to save her dream and her life. Hurston shows how Janie’s parental figures transform into metaphorical hurricanes, how a literal hurricane transforms into a metaphorical representation of Janie’s parental figures, and how Janie survives all five hurricanes.

Janie’s first parental, godlike figure is Nanny, and she is the first to assume the form of a metaphorical hurricane or “[s]omething resembling a hurricane in force or speed” (“Hurricane”). Nanny establishes her parental, godlike status to Janie when she says, “’You ain’t got no papa, you might jus’ as well say no mama, for de good she do yuh. You ain’t got nobody but me…Neither can you stand alone by yo’self’” (15). While acting as the sole provider of love and protection to Janie, Nanny assumes the speed and force of a hurricane; “she bolt[s] upright” upon witnessing Janie’s first kiss and commands, “’Ah wants to see you married right away’” (13). Nanny equates love and protection with thrusting her dream onto Janie; she tells Janie to marry Logan Killicks and adds, “’Ah been waitin’ a long time, Janie, but nothin’ Ah been through ain’t too much if you just take a stand on high ground lak Ah dreamed’” (16). Janie receives this definition of Nanny’s love and protection with the faith and obedience that one would offer God; “[i]n the few days to live before she went to Logan Killicks and his often-mentioned sixty acres,” Janie decides, “Yes, she would love Logan after they were married. She could see no way for it to come about, but Nanny and the old folks had said it, so it must be so” (21). When the forced marriage quickly threatens to annihilate her, however, Janie uses her voice and fights to salvage her dream and her life; “[s]he beg[ins] to cry” to Nanny and announces, “’Ah wants things sweet wid mah marriage lak when you sit under a pear tree and think’” (24). Unfortunately, Janie uses her voice to little avail with her first parental figure because Nanny hushes her and says, “’Better leave things de way dey is…Yo’ mind will change[,]’” and she “sen[ds] Janie along with a stern mien” (24).

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