In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston uses a number of different devices to communicate the important themes of the work to her readers. As a very visual writer, she liked to paint a clear picture of what was taking place to her readers. Her ability to use descriptive language set her apart as a writer, and she ensured that she connected with readers in this way. In general, she used imagery relating to nature to draw comparisons to the specific characters in her book. Hurston’s use of nature-related imagery and figurative language was designed to show to readers the essence and development of young women and conceptions of love in general.
One of the primary times when the author uses nature imagery is in the description of the pear tree. Janie, her chief character, discusses this pear tree, and she uses the pear tree to discuss the various aspects of growing up and attaining love. In the story, Hurston wrote of the pear tree, “She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight” (Hurston 14). This quote was very descriptive in the way it described the pear tree, but more than that, it used elicit imagery to discuss the process of pollination. The point of this, at least in part, is to communicate to the reader the beautiful and complex process of sex. Sex, at least in this work, is not without a purpose. It is something to be taken seriously, and with the way the author invokes natural imagery, she makes very clear that this is the underlying purpose of sex, even for a character who was very young.
In addition to use nature imagery to discuss sex, the author also uses it to show the development of young women. Part of the point of this work is about a woman’s growth from girlhood to adulthood. A woman will grow from being a helpless young woman to being a strong older woman throughout the course of the book. There is certain symbolism implicit in the author’s use of natural imagery. At one point, she writes, “The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God” (Hurston). A major part of the goal of the author is to show that a major part of growing up is learning to deal with the realities of life. One of the realities, it seems, is that adults have to deal with the elements. Often times in this book, it is the characters against nature. God, and the concept of the natural fury of God, plays an incredibly important role in shaping the work overall. The author uses natural imagery to emphasize the power God.
Another way that the author uses natural imagery is to show progress. In the early part of the work, Janie is shown as being someone who is relatively unaware of her surroundings. As she glances up at the sky, it becomes more than apparent that she has a sense of wanderlust about her. The author uses natural imagery in that moment to show that she is still very much searching for answers. As she develops, though, she becomes more aware of her surroundings. She is no longer as amazed by nature, and the scenes of nature are no longer framed in the sense of what she does not understand. Rather, later on, nature is shown as a means of communicating that Janie has learned things through all of her trials. By using this contrast from the early part of the work to the late part of the work, the author is able to show the progression that Janie makes in this story. Rather than just telling the reader about, the author shows the reader, though descriptive language and imagery.
The author uses natural imagery to invoke emotions in the reader. It is meant to show just where Janie begins and where she ends up at the end of the story. In some respects, imagery is used to show just how important sex and love are to the character. Not things to be taken lightly, sex and love are shown as being among the most important elements of life, as shown by the imagery with the pear tree. Later, the natural imagery is used to show the strength of God and to communicate what people are up against when they are battling against the natural elements. Above all else, the author uses nature imagery to show, at the end, how much the character has developed since the beginning of the story. The work is about finding one’s self and finding answers, and the natural imagery communicates this very smartly.