Their Eyes Were Watching God: the use of metaphors to illustrate the journey of the protagonist
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time (Hurston 1). The omniscient narrator in Zora Neal Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God, paints a picture of a metaphoric ship with the ability to carry dreams, not just dreams but every man’s dreams. Always in view, always attainable to the man who never gives up. For the men and women called the Watcher, who never attain their dreams they find themselves mocked to death by Time. It is interesting that while death does not begin with a capital letter, Watcher and Time do. The Watcher is being watched by Time. And so Hurston takes us on a journey into the life of Janie Crawford a young girl who is drawn to the horizon in search of her identity, her dreams. Throughout the novel Hurston uses Time to draw attention to the life of Janie Crawford in her search for herself.
The omniscient narrator takes up the metaphor of time once again in chapter two. Janie saw her life as a great tree in leaf with things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches (8). The narrator uses the organic metaphor of a tree, here Janie seems to realize that there is a cycle to her life just as there is a cycle to the life of a tree. The bright promise of a new dawn and the lingering possibility of doom, dreams unrealized, purpose unfulfilled.
Janie wants to experience love she has many questions concerning love, marriage, and life. And so the Narrator begins chapter three with yet another metaphor. There are years that ask questions and years that answer. Janie had no chance to know things so she had to ask. Did marriage end the cosmic loneliness of the unmarried? Did marriage compel love like the sun the day (22)? The reader now walks with Janie as she enters her first marriage. She experiences the answer to her questions, and seems to be mocked by time and doom. At the end of Janie’s first marriage the narrator shows us that Janie is maturing through her life experiences.
So Janie waited a bloom time, and a green time, and an orange time…she knew things that nobody had ever told her…she knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up…she knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman (25). In this passage Hurston continues to use time, and death to paint the picture of life, destiny, and the fulfillment of dreams. Janie’s dream of love and marriage has died, and so she matures into a woman. But unlike the Watcher who turns away in resignation from his/her horizon and ultimately the fulfillment of ones dream, Janie looks into the horizon and begins to expect something.
Janie Crawford lives trough two marriages, she leaves one husband and outlived the other, never to find love. Until she meets her third husband. Again Hurston uses time as a metaphor in Janie’s life. One night after Teacake walks Janie home. The narrator describes Janie’s mood. So she sat on the porch and watched the moon rise. Soon its amber fluid was drenching the earth, and quenching the thirst of the day (99).
I believe this metaphor describes Janie and her new life with Teacake. All the thirst she had for love and marriage will be fulfilled or quenched by her union with Teacake. She meets Teacake in the evening of her life. Together they travel to the horizon and death attacks her. Hurston calls death “old square toes.” Even though old square toes takes Teacake in the evening of Janie’s life, she still has him in her memories and he continues to give her the horizon she always dreamed of. Teacake was the son of the Evening Sun (189). He could never be dead until Janie had finished feeling and thinking…the kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great net…and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see (193). Time could not mock Janie as she experienced her dreams come true, she experienced the dawn and the doom of the metaphoric tree of life and she had no regrets she learned the answer to her questions in her journey to the horizon and back.
Hurston, Zora Neal. Their Eyes Were Watching God. First Harper Perennial Modern Classics New
York, New York. 2006