What are some examples of figurative language Zora Neale Hurston uses in her novel Their Eyes Were watching God?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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A great deal of figurative language can be found in even just the first page of Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Ones to particularly watch out for are metaphors and personification.

A metaphor is a comparison of two things, and  an author uses the comparison to help a reader better understand, better visualize an abstract idea. Beyond just metaphors, there can also be extended metaphors. In prose, extended metaphors happen when an author creates a comparison of two unrelated things using multiple sentences.

The opening paragraph of Chapter 1 is made up of one long extended metaphor, ending with the sentence, "That is the life of men." The metaphor compares the "life of men" to watching wishes sailing on the horizon. Though the opening sentence--"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board"--sounds literal, all ships do not literally have all men's wishes on board. The sentence instead is a reference to the common idiom, "wait for your ship to come in," which means a person is waiting for an opportunity to come that will bring the person prosperity. The extended metaphor continues in the next few sentences in which the narrator describes that some people have no problems receiving the ship they are waiting for; others fruitlessly stare at the horizon all their lives until they give up. Hence, the extended metaphor is describing mankind's lives as divided into two: those who receive what they want in life and those who never do.

Personification is figurative language in which a writer attributes human characteristics to inanimate objects or abstract concepts.

Personification can also be found in the extended metaphor in the phrase "his dreams mocked to death by Time." Since time cannot literally mock a person to death, we can see how the author is ascribing human traits to time, creating a perfect example of personification.

More personification and another metaphor can even be found further down on the fist page in the sentence, "The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky." The sun cannot literally leave behind anything; therefore, again, the author is personifying the sun, giving it human characteristics. Also, since we know the writer is describing the sunset, we also know that the phrase "footprints in the sky" is a metaphor to describe all of the aftermath of the setting sun--the glow on the horizon and all of the colors. Since the colors of a sunset are not literally footprints, we know the author is comparing the effects of the setting sun to footprints to create a unique way of describing yet another sunset.


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