Walking Along the Branches of Life
Does Mother Nature truly nurture? In Zora Neale Hurstons Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie is affected by the nature of Mother Nature. Janie seeks to harmonize with nature and its realm sparks her ambition to reject the burdens and discrimination placed on her because of her race and gender. As a result, she gathers strength and develops as a person on her path to true freedom. Throughout the novel, the theme of nature reflects Janies journey of self-discovery through the pear tree, death, and the horizon.
One element in nature, the pear tree, is used to elucidate Janies sexual feelings in relationships. In the beginning of her journey, Janie basks in the beauty of a pear tree.
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 root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. (11)
Early in her life, Janie has come to the false conclusion that marriage solely incorporates sex and that love does not lead, but follows marriage. Janie first experiences the reality of marriage with Logan Killicks and ultimately in her marriage with Joe Starks. Nanny stipulated that Janie marry Logan to ensure Janies security. In Nannys past experiences she grasped the idea that in order to live a good, fulfilling life you need to have financial security. Janies life with Logan becomes monotonous which contributes to Janies decision to run off with Joe Starks. Joe is attracted to Janie because of her alluring beauty, which would aid his solitary goal of attaining power. After seven years of marriage to Joe Starks, Janie feels disconnected from her husband.
The bed was no longer a daisy-field for her and Joe to play inShe wasnt petal-open anymore with himShe had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where the petals used to be. (71-72)
Janie discovers she has a lack of both lust and love for Jody after enduring verbal, emotional, mental, and physical abuse. She uses the pear tree in the metaphorical sense to understand the condition of her marriage and to determine the qualities in a man she desires. In the beginning, it seems as though he is a sincere, genuine man who is committed to his goals. Janie soon fathoms the fact that Joe fabricated an unrealistic life when he met Janie. Joe does not sustain his promises to Janie. Joe does not treat Janie as an equal and therefore does not represent the pear tree. After the death of Jody, Janie meets an unusual man in her store named Tea Cake. 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 (106). Janie is enamored with Tea Cakes manner and becomes attracted to him almost instinctually. The pear tree is Janies ideal relationship and, because Tea Cake appears capable of fulfilling the role of her desired man, she is interested in pursuing him. The blossoming, youthful pear tree becomes her tool in measuring the quality of her relationships throughout her life. It not only inspires her, but initiates her journey of emotional fulfillment.
Death is a bittersweet force of nature that aids Janie on her journey. As Jodys health deteriorates, Hurston contemplates and personifies death.
Death, that being with the huge square toes that lived in the West. The great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof. What need has death for a cover, and what winds can blow against him? He stands in his high house that overlooks the world. Stands watchful and motionless all day with his sword drawn back, waiting for the messenger to bid him come. Been standing there before there is was a where or a when or a then. She was liable to find a feather from his wings any day now. She was sad and afraid to. (84)
It must be understood that while Janie reveres death, she does not welcome it. Janie acknowledges death as omnipotent. She accepts it, or rather him, as a force of nature more powerful than she, yet she initially resents his presence in her life. Upon Jodys funeral, she speaks of her physical being and her spiritual being as separate from each other.
It was like a wall of stone and steel. The funeral was going on outside. All things concerning death and burial were said and doneInside the expensive black folds were resurrection and life. She did not reach outside for anything, nor did the things of death reach inside to disturb her calm. She sent her face to Joes funeral, and herself went rollicking across the springtime. (88)
In this case, death frees Janie from her imprisonment of her union with Jody. Joe suppresses Janie when he forbids her to wear her hair down for everyone to gaze upon. When Janie removes the hair wrap, a symbol for her union with Jody, she is freeing herself from the shackles of marriage. She relishes in her newfound independence. Her alienation from the funeral demonstrates her spirits freedom from society. Death finds her after Tea Cake had a violent encounter with a dog during the storm.
Well, she thought, that big old dawg with the hatred in his eyes had killed her after all. She wished she had slipped off that cow-tail and drowned then and there and been done. But to kill her through Tea Cake was too much to bear. Tea Cake, the son of Evening Sun, had to die for loving her. (178)
Death continuously stalks Janie throughout her life and rids her of those she is dependent upon. She finds her life colored by the deaths of those who were close to her including Nanny, Jody, and her beloved Tea Cake. She cannot escape it, no matter what the circumstances. Although Tea Cake has helped her develop emotionally and as a person, she cannot reach the end of her journey until his demise. Although Janie finds death painful to endure, it both liberates and empowers her.
The horizon became a very prominent symbol in her path of self-discovery, continually influencing her decisions throughout the novel. Bored by the tedium in her relationship with Logan, she is attracted to the ambitious Joe Starks. Janie pulled back a long time because he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance (29). Janie, tired of static Logan, aspired to attain her own goals in life and admired Jodys determination to pursue his ambitions. She sees Jody as some one that can help her realize her horizon, her goals in life. Janie is enraged when she comes to the conclusion that Nanny had suppressed the significance of the horizon.
Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing ever made, the horizonfor no matter how far person can go the horizon is still far beyond youand pinched it into such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughters neck tight enough to choke her. She hated the old woman who had twisted her so in the name of love. (pg. 89)
Janie realizes Nannys neglect to emphasize the importance and vitality of the horizon and initially hates her for it. Janie sees the importance of her development as a self-respecting African American woman. This signifies a revelation in Janies life. She now has made the choice to pursue her own horizon. As the novel reaches an end, Janie reaches her horizon. 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 (pg. 193). Janie has fully experienced life, she has ended her journey of self-fulfillment and development. She has attained the harmony with nature she so craved. She is free from the confines of the community, and is satisfied with the memory of Tea Cake.
From the combined effect of the emotionally stirring pear tree, liberating death, and the motivating horizon, Janie finally reaches the end of her journey, having enjoyed the fruits and resented the burdens of life. Janie grows richer from her experiences and grows stronger as she overcomes the discrimination placed on her because of her race and gender. She found strength to break free of Jodys suffocating grasp, and found true love and happiness with the lovable Tea Cake. She becomes truly free of her dependency on others and indifferent to her societys constant judgment. She had learned much and overall benefited from understanding nature and walking along its branches of life.