Illustration of the profile of Janine Crawford and another person facing each other

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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What does the pear tree symbolize in Their Eyes Were Watching God?

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The pear tree in Their Eyes Were Watching God symbolizes Janie’s emerging desires and idealized view of love. When she's first discovering her sexuality, she lies under the tree and sees bees gathering nectar. She fantasizes about marriage as a passionate relationship in which she will blossom as a woman. But her marriage to Logan “desecrates” the pear tree because it is void of real love.

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Throughout Their Eyes Were Watching God, plants and flowers are repeatedly used to symbolize various aspects of the female characters. The pear tree, in particular, is symbolic of Janie's sexual development and desires. Janie views her sexuality as a natural thing, just like this tree. Early on in the novel, Janie sits under this tree and thinks about love, sex, and marriage. It is where she is just before her first kiss, which she shares with Johnny Taylor.

Over the course of her story, Janie often conflates love and sexuality. In chapter 2, when she watches the bee drink the tree's nectar and pollinate the blossoms, she thinks that this is what marriage must be like. Marriage, to her naïve mind, is the perfect union of love and sexuality. Over the course of her first two marriages, Janie is disabused of this notion. Logan, her first husband, is the exact opposite of the natural beauty she experienced under the pear tree. Joe, her second husband, is no better. These two men do not see marriage as Janie sees it with the pear tree. To them, it is not some beautiful partnership, but a way to elevate themselves by dominating a subservient wife.

It is only when she meets Tea Cake that Janie's vision of the pear tree comes true. Like the bee in the pear blossoms, Tea Cake enjoys spending time with Janie. She is not some object for him to control. Rather, he sees his wife as a true partner.

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In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, the pear tree represents Janie’s passions and desires. As she starts to become a woman, she begins to idealize love as this perfect, natural thing. She loves to sit under the pear tree and think about the world. It is there that she is “stirred” by nature and by the idea of intimacy. She watches bees gather nectar and becomes excited fantasizing about marriage and marital relations:

So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation…

From the start, the pear tree is associated with Janie’s emerging sexuality and her romantic views of love and the natural world. This association remains constant throughout the book, especially as Janie begins to experience the complex realities of relationships. For instance, Janie does not love Logan Killicks, but Nanny wants her to marry him. The narrator explains,

The vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree, but Janie didn’t know how to tell Nanny that.

Later Janie tries to express her feelings to Nanny and says:

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

Here we see how the pear tree functions as Janie’s idealized vision of passionate love. She believes that love from a man will allow her to blossom like the pear tree, but in her first few relationships, that this is not the case. It is not until Tea Cake comes into her life that she is finally able to blossom into a complete woman. In chapter 11, she thinks about him, reflecting:

He could be a bee to a blossom—a pear tree blossom in the spring.

At last, Janie has found a type of love like the one she idealized under the pear tree when she was first encountering her emerging sexuality.

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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.

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

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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What is the significance of the pear tree in Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston?

The pear tree is also a motif that symbolizes the evolution of Janie's dream from that of her grandmother's early on (to get married to a prominent, wealthy man) to her entry into her third and final marriage to Teacake, the man who shows her the meaning of true love while allowing her to be herself.  Whenever she is in need of inspiration or contemplation (usually after a failed marriage), she returns to the pear tree to reflect on where she is at in her life and where she is going.  She never loses site of her optimism in spite of a her many trials and tribulations. The constant rebirth of the tree mirrors her constant springing back from the wrong path and return to her quest for true love, no matter what physical or emotional abuse she may have endured along the way. 

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