“Ships at a Distance”: Dreams in Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Zora Neale Hurston opens Their Eyes Were Watching God with an eloquent metaphor regarding dreams: “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).” Hurston describes here how some dreams are achieved with time while others lurk out of reach until the dreamer gives up. Janie Crawford, protagonist of Their Eyes Were Watching God, encounters numerous ambitions throughout her life, mainly concerning a desire to somehow achieve something in life, and to not just go through the motions. While Janie’s dreams and my own do not exactly correspond, we both aspire to discover a greater passion in life and find a voice that will enable us to make a difference.

When Janie is growing up, she is eager to become a woman and is ready to dive into the strain, maturity, and exhilaration of adulthood. In the beginning of Janie’s life story, Hurston introduces the metaphor of the pear tree, a symbol of Janie’s blossoming, and describes how “she had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her,” which successfully captures her excitement and perplexity of entering the adult world (11). Janie’s anxiety of growing up is also articulated with the image of her “looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made” (Hurston 11). In her teenage years, it seems as if her life revolves around the anticipation of womanhood. Even as Janie grows older, she continues to hold on to her aspiration of living an adventurous, invigorating, and passionate life. In criti...

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