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 might Janie's hair symbolize in Their Eyes Were Watching God?

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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie's hair is a symbol of her independence and identity. The fact that Joe makes her cover it up is evidence that he felt that her sexuality was threatening and had to be controlled.

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Janie's hair is a symbol of her strength and individuality. The prevailing social standards of the town dictate that it is unseemly for a young lady to wear her hair down. But Janie doesn't care; she'll wear her hair the way she wants to. In doing so, she is openly and defiantly asserting her individuality.

It's also notable that Janie's hair is described in almost phallic terms, illustrating how her strength as a woman transgresses established norms. For a woman to live life on her own terms is considered scandalous in this neck of the woods. Normally, it's only men who get to act this way. But Janie is different, and her assertiveness, as well as her rebellious free spirit, represent a serious threat to dominant social values and to Jody's masculinity.

Janie's hair is also straight, a characteristic associated with Caucasians. This notable feature of hers, a product of her mixed-race heritage, allows Janie to subvert not just traditional gender roles, but racial roles as well.

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What does Janie's hair symbolize?

Janie's hair symbolizes her independence and identity. When she is married to Joe, Janie's body becomes a kind of threat—Joe, the mayor of the town, is afraid that Janie's beauty will attract other men and undermine his authority. For Joe, Janie's sexuality is dangerous and must be controlled. He exerts this control by making Janie cover her hair.

By submitting to his demands, Janie is not only ceding control over her body to her husband, but effectively conceding that her beauty, which attracted Joe to her in the first place, has become obscene and something shameful that must be hidden—or, worse than that, a kind of temptation that threatens the social structure of the town and Joe's position at the top of that structure. In covering her hair, Janie is made to feel degraded and less than her whole self.

This is why, after Joe's death, Janie immediately takes down her hair and burns her head rags. It is as if she is finally able to inhabit her own body again and be her own person. Her sense of freedom is palpable. She will "have the rest of her life" to wear her hair as she pleases or to love or be loved as she pleases.

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