Anatoliy Souksov Paper #4 The Tree, the Mule and the Everglades: Hurstons Mastery of Metaphors and Poetic Style in Their Eyes Were Watching God In poetry, a major part of a works beauty is not just the poets story or message, but the language itself, and how the poet manipulates rhyme, rhythm and intricate symbolism to convey a mood and a message. In prose, it usually the story itself, rather than the language, that takes center stage. Yet occasionally a writer will work language and poetic devices into a novel so well that the line between prose and poetry becomes blurred and indistinct. Zora Neale Hurstons Their Eyes Were Watching God is one such novel. Their Eyes tells the life story of Janiea black woman living in the South sometime in the early 1900sfrom her youth and adolescent days being raised by her grandmother, to her coming of age, her three individually tragic marriages and a resilient quest for true love. Despite being remarkable prose, in Their Eyes Hurston employs many poetic elements, particularly a liberal and effective use of metaphors. Three of these metaphorsthe blossoming pear tree, the mule and the fertile Evergladesare incredibly poignant and are a testament to Hurstons highly versatile writing style. Hurstons first metaphor is that of a blossoming pear tree and it comes early in the novel. At the age of sixteen Janie finds herself enthralled with a beautiful blooming pear tree. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to the snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously (Hurston 10). The tree, and the accompanying birds and bees that Janie is so enamored with as well, is of course a metaphor for Janies own blooming into womanhood and sexual maturity. It is no coincidence that Janies experience with the pear tree
coincides with her first kiss and her grandmothers own realization that Janie is now a woman in desperate need of a man who would be able to support her (Hurston 10-14). Another metaphor in the novel is that of Matt Bonners old, skinny mule that the entire town of Eatonville, including its owner, badgers and bullies for its own amusement (Hurston 56). The mule, and the townspeoples treatment of it, is a powerful metaphor of slavery. The mule, much like black slaves in the United States, is indispensable to its owners and the towns prosperity and economy. Yet, much like the slaves, it is disrespected, underfed, mistreated and used as an object of mockery and amusement. Even Janie acknowledges this similarity and strengthens the metaphor when she compares Jodys purchase and freeing of the mule to the noble actions of Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln, he had de whole United States tuh rule so he freed de Negroes. You got uh town so you freed uh mule. You have tuh have power tuh free things and dat makes you lak uh king uh something (Hurston 58). The mule stands as a strong metaphor not only for the everlasting scar slavery left on the African-American community despite its physical abolition, but of how quickly the oppressed can become the oppressors and unleash their torment unto a weaker being. Yet another metaphor in Their Eyes is that of the fertile Everglades. When Janies third husband Tea Cake takes her down to the Everglades, the area is fertile and blossoming with [g]round so rich that everything went wild (Hurston 129). And while in the beginning life for Janie and Tea Cake is good and they are prospering both financially and emotionally, eventually the area is tragically devastated and destroyed by a massive hurricane. In many ways the tragedy that befalls the Everglades is a metaphor for all three of Janies marriages. All three, or at least the last two, begin as ripe and blossoming romances, only to have those romances end, tragically, with either a loss of love, death or both (Hurston 32, 87, 184).
While Hurstons Their Eyes is undoubtedly a remarkably moving work of prose, as the metaphors of the tree, the mule and the fertile Everglades attest to, it is littered with metaphors and symbolism. By incorporating these literary devices artfully and skillfully into her already masterful writing style, Hurston not only adds beauty to her work but blurs the line between prose and poetry.
Works Cited Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: HarperCollins, 1937.