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Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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What are examples of figurative language in chapters 2 and 3 of Their Eyes Were Watching God?

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In chapters 2 and 3 of "Their Eyes Were Watching God," Zora Neale Hurston uses vivid imagery and sensory language to portray Janie's deep connection to the natural world. Examples include the metaphor of Janie's life as a blossoming tree, the simile of her feelings towards her barren marriage to a stump in the woods, and her imagined conversations with seeds. These instances of figurative language emphasize Janie's philosophical nature, her yearning for a fulfilling life, and her disillusionment with her loveless marriage.

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Zora Neale Hurston portrays Janie as a philosophical, imaginative person through the use of vivid imagery, drawing on multiple senses. Janie feels deep connections to the natural world and, through it, to God. A passage in chapter 2 about the pear tree that is a symbol of her awakening consciousness shows this association. With its barely-open flowers, the tree “stirred her tremendously.” She feels that she barely hears a forgotten flute song, but also understands:

This singing she heard had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell.

A few pages later, Hurston picks up the tree metaphor as related to one’s idea in the world. This time Janie’s grandmother offers a strongly contrasting vision: “us colored folks is branches without roots.”

In chapter 3, tree imagery occurs once more. The narrator provides Janie’s feelings after she married Logan, moved away with him, and first saw his house. Its barrenness and isolation, symbolic of their marriage and the alienation she will experience, is suggested by a lone tree that had been cut down. Its plain, empty quality is also connected to the sense of taste:

It was a lonesome place like a stump in the middle of the woods where nobody had ever been. The house was absent of flavor, too.

The longer Janie stays, the more she realizes that her life will only become miserable; there is no love in her marriage. She seeks a fertile, fulfilling life. Her ability to connect with nature is shown through the sense of hearing; she speaks to the seeds and understands what they say:

She often spoke to the falling seeds and said, “Ah hope you fall on soft ground,” because she had heard seeds saying that to each other as they passed.

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Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God is full of examples of figurative language. I will quote a few from Chapters 2 and 3 and explain how they impact the meaning of Hurston's novel. 

Chapter 2 begins with following short paragraph:

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. 

Here, we can see the narrator comparing Janie's life to the blossoming tree. Hurston uses a simile in the first line when she says, "Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf." In thinking of her life like this tree, she imagines that the leaves represent her experiences, good and bad. In the final sentence of the paragraph, Hurston uses a metaphor to say that "Dawn and doom was in the branches," as there is no like or as to make the comparison here. The line means that both the beginnings and the ends of things are seen here in the tree. The tree is meant to represent the scope of Janie's entire life. 

The figurative language describing the connection between Janie and the pear tree continues later in Chapter 2. This is a long example, so I will only include an excerpt: 

Oh to be a pear tree -- any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her?

This follows a longer description of the bees and the flowers, a scene Janie observes and thinks of as "a marriage!" In the quote above, Janie longs to be like a blooming tree, her life beginning, particularly her romantic life. Hurston uses metaphor again to describe Janie as having "glossy leaves and bursting buds." This means that Janie feels that she is growing up and she is ready to fall in love, but she has not had the opportunity to explore her desires yet. These are just a couple of the many examples of figurative language in Chapter 2.

Toward the end of Chapter 3, Hurston again uses figurative language to emphasize Janie's connection with the natural world around her and to describe Janie's desire for romantic love. At this time, Janie has already married Logan -- at her Nanny's command -- and she has found the marriage to not live up to her expectations, formed in part when she lay under the pear tree in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3, Hurston writes:

[Janie] knew things that nobody had ever told her. For instance, the words of the trees and the wind ... She knew the world was a stallion rolling in the blue pasture of ether. She knew God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up.

Again, Janie's connection to the earth is described through her figuratively being able to understand the language of nature. She thinks of "the world" as "a stallion rolling in the blue pasture." This is another example of metaphor, and this comparison captures the joy of the world as seen through Janie's eyes. The beauty and exuberance Janie sees in nature, however, are not reflected in Janie's own life. This is why she decides to leave with Jody when he convinces her that he will treat her better than Logan can. 

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