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Horizon in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God
The horizon is the line which forms the apparent boundary between earth and sky. The horizon is as far as you can see. The horizon appears to be the furthest point you can reach, but is not a place you can actually travel to. The horizon blurs at the line between earth and sky. The horizon is always present, no matter where you are or which direction you are facing. The horizon is where the sun rises and where the sun sets, representing a process coming full circle. These are all features of the horizon and they are all relevant to Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.
The novel suggests the importance of the horizon because it begins with it and ends with it. In the opening of the novel, Hurston writes:
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).
This ship represents Janie's hopes and dreams. They are far away and not always easy to see, and yet they are always there. The statements that they will never land "until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation" shows the capacity dreams have for staying alive, sailing forever as long as the dreamer can continue to maintain hope for those dreams. The novel ends with another reference to the horizon:
She pulled in on her horizon like a great fish net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes (Hurston 184)!
From Janie beginning with her dreams on the horizon, she finishes by pulling them in. This beginning and end shows that the horizon metaphor is important to Janie and her story, but only hints at the meaning of the horizon throughout the novel. The horizon is a constant metaphor for Janie's journey and represents both who she is and how she changes as she completes her personal journey of understanding.
The horizon can first be understood as representing the boundary between earth and sky. This can be expanded if the earth is considered as the real world, and the sky as something beyond the real world. Hurston's reference to the horizon as where dreams are further suggests that the sky refers to what a person hopes and dreams for, even if it reaches farther than the limitations of the real world. With this understanding, the horizon represents Janie's journey to follow her dreams and believe in them and in herself. Janie is certainly a character who dares to dream. This is a key part of her character, where regardless of how the reality of life tries to hold her back, she continues to strive to gain what she wants. This begins with her experience under the pair tree where she experiences a revelation:
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. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation (Hurston 11).
This experience gives her an ideal view of love and what she wants in a marriage. Despite this not being delivered in two marriages, she never lets go of her dream and she eventually experiences it with Tea Cake. This ability to dream and to hope sets her apart from the other characters in the novel. One author notes how her mother "does not see such promises on the horizon for herself or Janie. Her goal is to see Janie married not for love or for happiness but for safety and security" (Litkicks). This view of her mother's is an example of someone whose thoughts are grounded in reality. Janie sees reality, but as well, she is not afraid to dream. That is why her eyes are on horizon, where reality meets with future possibility.
The next important point is that the horizon appears to be the furthest point you can reach, but is not a place you can actually travel to. The horizon also blurs at the line between earth and sky. These features of the horizon suggest that Janie's path is not clear. While she does have a dream, it is not one she can easily reach by walking a straight path. In fact, it is not even one where you will know when it has been reached. This helps to explain Janie's struggles in her life, especially in her marriages. If her journey was clear and what she wanted easy to define, she might not have married at all. Instead, she does marry and adjusts her life in those marriages. With Joe especially, she seems to let go of her dream and give up her independence. However, in the end she reclaims it when she speaks the truth to Joe on his deathbed. The idea of the horizon as faraway and not able to be actually reached refers to the way that her dream and the hope she has is a far off thing guiding her life, but not defining her every day. That explains how she strays from her dream and is then able to return to it. Even after giving up her independence somewhat, she can look at the faraway horizon, rediscover what is out there, and rediscover her own needs in the process.
Another key feature of the horizon is that it is always present, no matter where you are or which direction you are looking. The horizon exists as one certain thing that will always be there, whether you always notice it or not. This aspect of the horizon relates to trust and Janie's ability to trust herself and trust the processes of life. It also especially relates to the idea of fate and God and allowing things to happen. This is made especially clear at the point where Janie and Tea Cake watch the hurricane:
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 151).
This scene shows how Janie and Tea Cake are able to see beyond what is happening and see something greater than themselves. They are the calm against the storm. At the same time, their eyes watching God shows that they are able to have faith and trust when things are out of their control. Lillios describes the hurricane as the catalyst that makes Janie rely less on other people and more on herself. Just as she was able to trust in something greater, she also learns to trust in the something greater that is within herself. This something greater is her spirit and her hope, and it is the horizon that is always there for her, even if she cannot always see it.
Finally, the horizon is where the sun rises and where the sun sets, representing a process coming full circle. Interestingly, Janie's life coming full circle does not mean that she finds and maintains the kind of love she originally hoped for. Instead, she leaves the town to find that love and returns to the town having found it. Barbeito notes that the…[continue]
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