25 Jul 2009

Sample Essay: Their Eyes Were Watching God :The Journey For Self

Zora Neale Hurston

“Theirs Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston is a classic novel which was originally published in 1937, during the time of depression in America. This book is the best known work by the author, which is placed in Southern Florida in 20th century. It is one of the most controversial novels of the time. It has left its mark on the African-American literature as well as women’s literature. The references made to the African -American culture which is intertwined with deep inner search for horizon by young girl Janie Mae Crawford, “blossoming under the pear tree” in West Florida, is spectacular. This journey is the essence of the novel, in which cultural factors are beautifully integrated with conservative Christian faith, folk tradition and feminism. The dream and the romanticism of the young girl is captured with sensitivity and challenge. The title itself is on the surface very spiritual in expression, with insight and depth. Here the eyes are the true reflection of the soul, and the search for God is the search for the true self, in which the human spirit is merged. Janie, is young but has higher aspiration for finding true love, which she does find with God’s grace. She struggles for it , suffers for it and survives through the turmoil in her life before she truly finds and holds on to it. This is true love story which has drama, poetry and music all encompassed in her blissful experience under the “blossoming pear tree” where she finds her moment of inspiration.

Janie is born in a time when black women did not enjoy great privileges. This is a love story of a girl which is deeply rooted in the traditions which are followed by the folk culture in African-American society. The reality of the women’s life in black society was steeped in mythological traditions and observances. Janie, being raised by her grandmother was subjected to compromises regarding her life in the name of tradition; still she nurtures her dreams and finds an opportunity for escape from social prison -marriage to which she was subjected. She manages to get her voice heard after long struggle. And finally through her narration of her life’s story to Pheoby, her best friend she is wisely making her courageous journey for horizon known to the people of Eatonville, which she truly considers her home.

Janie’s quest for identity is the central theme of the novel in which her struggle with the society, dominant male position and inner search for deepest desires and feelings of sexuality is very well woven in the fabric of  20th century America. The division between the blacks and the whites still was very predominant on the social and political scene. The character of Janie Crawford has evolved through three marriages and finally she has settled on her own terms after the role of companionship has been dissolved in her solitary search of selfhood. Her journey for self is slow and gradual, moving towards her horizon of love and inner peace. She has the courage to strive for it, fight for it and struggle to get it. She identifies the true love of her soul and takes on the journey looking into the eyes for God. Her quest for identity leads her on the path which is a journey in which she finds real love, experiences genuine joys and sorrows, participates fully in them and finally comes home to herself in peace.

Her association with nature is her initial harmony with the reality in its pristine form. And, nothing less than real fulfils her quest. Her first mentor is nature, through which she learns her first lessons of sexuality observing the ‘bee on the blossom”, and hence she begins her journey. But before she could reach her horizon several relationships and social pressures overcast her life with compromise and commitment. She has to struggle through social relationships to embrace her real self. She does it beautifully with conviction and determination.

Her two marriages open the door to her greatest education on life. In her first marriage with Killicks she is used as an object of production almost diminished to the status of the mule-hard work and lack of love makes her question her identity and existence strongly. She knows in her heart she cannot live like this, she needs freedom and love to nurture her soul. She gathers courage to run away. This was her first step towards freedom and identity. Her marriage with Joe Starks lasted long for twenty years on mere physical and material needs. She is still not satisfied and never stops to dream and hope for something more which her heart searches around. After Joe’s death “her real journey begins, in search of partner of her choice with qualities not wealth, power or fame. Tea Cake is the person who pleases her inner desire for companionship. Tea Cake engages her completely in heart, mind and soul. He is the first man who allows her to be who she is. She blossoms in his company.

Her marriage with Tea Cake is the end journey for her in fulfilling her quest for love which is beautifully captured in these words “[Tea Cake] looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom – a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God.” (Hurston Chapter 11, pg. 101)

Here she experiences sublime love, but she gets this reward of true love with her courage and determination. Tea Cake is younger than her, he holds no position, and her success in love comes from struggle. She strives hard to change her destiny. She identifies in Tea Cake her intimate partner and does not bother to look into any other factors related to his life. She enjoys her extreme moments of joy and sorrow with him. He makes her feel complete and whole and she clings to this feeling which is ephemeral. And the climax is hit when she has to kill the man she loves and is charged with his murder. She faces the jury, in which black men do not support her but white women come forward for her rescue. She wins, she grows and she matures in the process. She looks for trust and faith and she gets that from unexpected sources. This is her moment of peace and final meeting at the horizon. She glows with inner confidence and light in her eyes because she has found her identity and reached her horizon. “Here was peace. She 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.” (Hurston Chapter 20, pg. 184)

This is powerful and inspiring narrative, which has mesmerizing impact on the minds of the reader. This is the story of fight of solitary woman through social structure, family pressure, male domination, racial discrimination and legal system. It is a tribute to a black woman, who, though constricted by the times, still demanded to be heard. She has a voice, which is timeless and true, she has found her source of blossom.

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