What is the purpose of the pear tree in Their Eyes Were Watching God?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.

Thus begins Chapter 2 of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. The pear tree becomes a symbol of Janie Crawford, and it enters the first and last chapter of the novel.  First of all, the pear is shaped like many women's bodies, so it can symbolize a woman. Then, the blossoms are symbolic of the burgeoning of Janie's womanhood, her self.  This blossom needs the bee to fertilize it, to bring its fruit forward. Janie describes Tea Cake as this agent of her blossoming into womanhood:

He 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 a crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps....Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God.

With Tea Cake, Janie blossoms into full womanhood and independence.  While her husbands have all restrained her from becoming the person that she can be, Tea Cake provides her the freedom to blossom into a whole person. With Tea Cake she is allowed to look beyond each day and feel fulfilled. Tea Cake brings Janie her wish, a wish expressed in Chapter 3 when she says,

"Ah wants things sweet wid mah marriage lak when you set under a pear tree and think."

For Janie, the pear tree is representative of what she wants from life:  it blossoms like women, it is fertilized by bees, who symbolize man, and it provides shade and comfort in the marriage of blossom and bee. Jane wants respect--"things sweet"--from her partner, something that makes her comfortable with life. 

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