The pear tree symbolizes Janie’s change and burgeoning sexuality.
A symbol is something that stands for a bigger idea than what it literally means. In the beginning of the book, Janie is fascinated by the blooming pear tree and begins spending all her time there. She is drawn to its transformation, sensing and foreshadowing or symbolizing a transformation within herself.
Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back-yard….ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. (ch 2, p. 13)
Nanny realizes what is going on, and when she sees Janie kiss Johnny under the pear tree she tries to warn her that love is not all ideals. She wants to protect her from being taken advantage of because of her youthful enthusiasm.
Janie’s romantic and idealistic view of love, seen in her reaction to the pear tree, partially explains why her earlier relationships are not successful. It is not until later in her life, when she slowly opens up to her relationship with Tea Cake on a more mature level, that Janie sees what love really is.
Janie resists Tea Cake at first, remembering her early pear tree encounters, and her early sexual awakening. She is infatuated with Tea Cake.
He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom—a pear tree blossom in the spring. (ch 10, p. 126)
Janie describes him as “crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps” and “a glance from God.” In a way, Janie has come full circle. She is now fully aware of her feelings, even though she still feels passionate.
Despite the rough times Janie has in her life, she does learn to love. She also learns about loss. Yet she appreciates the time she had with Tea Cake, as the bond she hoped she would have as a girl under the pear tree.