The Significance of The Blue Dress in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwa

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The Significance of The Blue Dress in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwanee

Their Eyes Were Watching God:

Janie (talking to Phoebe about Tea Cake): “He done taught me de maiden language all over. Wait till you see de new blue satin Tea Cake done picked out for me tuh stand up wid him in. High heel slippers, necklace, earrings, everything he wants tuh see me in. Some of dese mornin’s and it won’t be long, you gointuh wake up callin’ me and Ah’ll be gone.” (pp. 109-10)

Seraph on the Suwanee:

“Over her mother’s outraged protests, Arvay put on the blue mull dress the next day. She thought that it was very becoming to her looks. She was ready away ahead of time, but ate no dinner. She was excited and curious about this buggy ride, and besides her corset was laced very tight. She put on the new leghorn-intention hat with the big pink rose on the floppy brim and waited.” (pp. 47-8)

Two impatient brides-to-be, puttin’ on the blue dress – but what different wedding nights and marriages await them. From the moment Janie and Tea Cake meet in Chapter 10, they delight in each other’s company and conversation. By Chapter 12, Janie joyfully acknowledges him as her partner and her teacher. His “lessons” consist not of imparting new information, but of reinstructing Janie “all over again” in something that she formerly possessed: “de maiden language.” This phrase recalls the biblical origins of the world (“In the beginning, there was the Word”), suggesting that through her relationship with Tea Cake, Janie’s own world and even her relation to the cosmos are being reordered. “Language” also refers to the verbal delight that Janie and Tea Cake take in each other. In contrast with Arvay and Jim, whose communi...

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...e can, however, signal her virginal status by dressing in a way that represents its equivalent: as a southern belle. In addition to her low-cut blue dress, with its feminine, puffed sleeves, Arvay wears a floppy-brimmed “leghorn-intention” (straw hat), decorated with a “big pink rose” (suggestive of reproduction). Most tellingly, we are told that she is wearing a corset that is “laced very tight” – so tight that she cannot eat her dinner. Corsets hold in the flesh and nip in the waistline to an attractively small diameter. By narrowing the waist, they emphasize the swellings of the hips and breasts, a contrast intended to stimulate sexual arousal. Thus Arvay’s wedding/reception attire emphasizes her fragility and innocence while highlighting her desirability. The clothing signs her as an object for consumption, rather than celebrates her as a beautiful companion.

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