Zora Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is, among other things, a creation story. For creation stories are not simply myths about the historical origins of the universe and humankind but metaphors for individual maturation. Individual perception is, to a large extent, what constitutes the world. Hence, the individual is the source and embodiment of the world; Janie is, the narrator tells us, “the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop” (72). And Janie’s awakening, or maturation, represents not only a personal transformation, but the creation of a universe. As a child seeking meaning, Janie does not look forward to merely “growing up” but waits “for the world to be made” (11). Obviously the narrator does not mean the material world, but that particular world which comes into being with the mature individual. And as a creation story, Their Eyes, like the creation stories which precede it, deals with “the reconciliation of mind to the conditions of life”—to the inherent violence of living.
Now, one of the main problems of mythology is reconciling the mind to this brutal precondition of all life, which lives by the killing and eating of lives. You don’t kid yourself by eating only vegetables, either, for they, too, are alive. So the essence of life is this eating of itself! Life lives on lives, and the reconciliation of the human mind and sensibilities to that fundamental fact is one of the functions of some of those very brutal rites in which the ritual consists chiefly of killing—in imitation, as it were, of that first, primordial crime, out of which arose this temporal world, in which we all participate. The reconciliation of mind to the conditions of...
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...n outside pine tree while Joy takes a turn, prancing about in the form of Tea Cake. Like Joy, Sorrow—and the violence which brings it about—has a place in the world and in Janie’s life. And in the novel’s closing lines, Janie “[pulls] in her horizon like a great fish-net. [Pulls] it from around the waist of the world and [drapes] it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see” (184). Sorrow, of course, is included in Janie’s horizon, and the image of pulling in her horizon reverses the previous image of Sorrow flying out. Janie not only accepts the sorrow and violence of life, but welcomes it. And, in doing so, Janie’s horizon embraces the waist of the world, and her creation becomes the creation of a world.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Ed. Henry Louis Gates. New York: Harper, 1990.
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