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Sexuality & Romance of Their Eyes Were Watching God
"They fought on. 'You done hurt mah heart, now you come wid uh lie tuh bruise mah ears! Turn go mah hands!" Janie seethed. But Tea Cake never let go. They wrestled on until they were doped with their own fumes and emanations; till their clothes had been torn away, till he hurled her to the floor and held her there melting her resistance with the heat of his body, doing things with their bodies to express the inexpressible; kissed her until she arched her body to meet him and they fell asleep in sweet exhaustion."
Sex and romance are at issues at the forefront of Their Eyes Were Watching God. The protagonist, Janie, is a romantic that seeks real love. She seeks it in herself and in the men of her life. When she is unsatisfied, she moves on to a new situation where there potential for real love and romance is greater. A great amount of the tension between Janie and her mother as well as between Janie and other women has to do with Janie's radiant sexuality. Other characters are jealous of her sexuality; the women in her family specifically are on a mission to repress Janie's sexuality and keep her removed from the sexual realm for as long as possible. Once Janie enters the sexual world, which is also the world of adulthood, they make attempts to shame and disgrace Janie for radiating a charming sexuality. Characters of the novel are attracted to Janie because of her sexuality, but ultimately come to hate it -- trying to extinguish it, control it, and control her. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, trees, flowers, and nature often symbolize sexuality and romance. They act as figures for sexuality and romance in general, but they also act as figures for Janie's sexuality, Janie's sexual awakening, and the sense of romance that permeates Janie's perspective on life as she moves through childhood, adolescence, and into adult maturation. The paper argues that the reader is supposed to align and understand sexuality & romance through the use of natural symbols.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a story of many themes such as freedom, discovery, adventure, identity, as well as sexuality. The use of the symbols aligns Janie with nature, with the natural, and with also the visceral and primal, such as literally the bird and the bees, the trees, the flowers, and sexual activity. These symbols make Janie a symbol for what is natural and for what is sexual because nature is very sexual and the sexual aspects of nature are vividly described/highlighted by Hurston. One of the ultimate messages of the novel is that if one adheres to ones ideals of romance and sex, satisfaction and fulfillment are possible, even for a black woman, as Nanny says, "De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see." (Hurston, TEWWG, Page 29)
Sexuality is closely tied to setting in the novel. Janie's sense of romance and Janie's blossoming sexuality are free to express themselves when Janie is in natural settings. When Janie is in nature, her curiosity in sex and her own sexuality comes to mind. Janie sees expressions of sexuality while she relaxes or ponders over her life in natural settings. Hurston writes:
"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. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid." (Hurston, TEWWG, Page 11)
Janie spends as much time as she can under the pear tree in West Florida. Every aspect of this scene in nature is teeming with sexuality and sexual innuendo. The bees are chanting, as if monks a part of the ritual of pollination about to take place. The breeze of the day is like panting breath during a sexual encounter. Hurston's use of language to describe Janie's watching bees pollinate the blossoms on the tree is abundant with sexual energy. There is an abundance of sexual energy in natural settings and the reader is meant to connect the sexual abundance found in nature with the sexual abundance of Janie's nature. Marks notes that, "To the passionate relationships Hurston attaches metaphors of natural fertility and sexuality, whereas she associates control relationships with physical deformity, decay, and technological, non-sexual productivity." (Marks, "Sex, Violence, & Organic Consciousness," Page 152) Janie watches the bees mate with the flowers, detecting the satisfaction and delight of the act. This spectacle brings Janie to orgasm, leaving her with a sense of eroticism and romance regarding the sexual act.
Shortly thereafter the aforementioned moment in the novel, one of Janie's first objects of romantic and sexual affection appears on the road, in the story, and in her life. The use of language when describing this figure is analogous to the language used when referring to the sexual and romantic nature of nature. Hurston continues: "Through the pollinated air she saw a glorious being coming up the road. In her former blindness she had known him as shiftless Johnny Taylor, tall and lean. That was before the golden dust of pollen had beglamored his rags and her eyes." (TEWWG, Page 11 -- 12) The air is a cloud of pollen that Janie and Johnny breathe in and are saturated by. The pollen has a magical quality of removing Janie's blindness to Johnny's manly charms. The pollen is so valuable, it is akin to gold in its worth to Janie, to romance, and to sex. Later on in the novel, with the entrance of Janie's lover, Tea Cake, Hurston evokes poetic language and natural symbols:
"He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom -- a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God." (TEWWG, Page 106)
Janie imagines Tea Cake in the same metaphor and with the same symbolism as her earlier sexual experience in adolescence with herself and with Johnny Taylor. Tea Cake is a new man who she desires to be a bee to her blossom. There is a component of sexuality with the inclusion of details regarding smell. Much of Tea Cake's power and charm over Janie at this moment comes from his smell, just as flowers have smells, and as pheromones, while odorless, do enter our systems through our noses and serve as aphrodisiacs. Mark contends:
"The proliferation of these organic tropes in connection with Janie's passionate loves identifies these relationships as representative of the non-mechanistic, non-technological vision of social order Hurston essentially endorses. Both Johnny Taylor and Tea Cake are characterized by a physical and natural beauty which, for Janie, is mythic in its power." (Marks, "Sex, Violence & Organic Consciousness," Page 154)
Tea Cake sometimes takes Janie into nature to spend time with her. They travel to the woods, the swamp or "the muck." (Hurston, 1998) In this natural setting, their romance and courtship blossoms. Tea Cake woos Janie and Janie falls in love with him during these private times in natural settings. Hite writes: "The muck' in this novel plays the role of a 'green world' in Shakespearean romance: it is a magical, somehow "more natural" realm that shapes both the outside world and the conclusion toward which the narrative tends." ("Romance, Marriage, Matrilineage," Page 267) Marks agrees as he writes: "Hurston clearly accepts the organicist ideology of romantic pastoralism over the mechanistic one of bourgeois capitalism, for it is with Tea Cake in the community 'on the muck' that Janie is most content." (Marks, "Sex, Violence & Organic Consciousness," Page 152)
Again, sexual awakening, the newness or freshness of romance & love, and freedom of sexuality is symbolized in nature throughout Hurston's novel.
On the other side of this spectrum, places of artifice and edifice represent places where Janie's sexuality is controlled and repressed. Nanny (Janie's mother/figure) constantly endeavors to regulate Janie's sexuality. Sexuality is an issue of control for women in TEWWG. For Hurston, repressive sexuality comes with the experience of labor and class. Nanny is a figure for both and does her part to shame Janie for her sexuality. Nanny also tries to cover up or hide Janie's sexuality, as well as keep her from participating in sexual activities. Participation in the more urbane less in what is rural or natural is associated…[continue]
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