In Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, what are the thematic implications of some of the scenes set outdoors, such as the episode involving the hurricane?

1 Answer

vangoghfan's profile pic

vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, many of the scenes set outdoors imply the beauty, vitality, and inspirational qualities of nature.  This is especially true, for instance, in the episode involving the pear tree.  However, Hurston obviously knew that emphasizing only these aspects of nature would open her novel to charges of sentimentality and excessively optimistic Romanticism. Hurston therefore stresses that nature can also seem indifferent or even hostile to humanity. Nature can change suddenly and can ruin humanity's achievements and plans in an instant. This is obviously what happens in the famous section of the novel involving the hurricane. That storm not only kills many people but also kills animals and devastates the landscape. It ultimately results in death for Teacake as well as in tragedy for Janie, the novel's heroine.

At one point, the hurricane literally lifts Janie into the air and carries her off:

She screamed terribly and released the roofing which sailed away as she plunged downward into the water.

The hurricane in Their Eyes Were Watching God is perhaps one of the most memorable scenes of destructive weather in all of canonical American literature, and it certainly shows Hurston's awareness that nature was not always benevolent or beneficial to human beings. Hurston's emphasis on the dark powers of nature (as well as its bright ones) helps give her book a kind of balance and wisdom it might otherwise have lacked.