Significance of the Porch in Hurston’s Novels, Seraph on the Suwanee and Their Eyes Were Watching G

Significance of the Porch in Hurston’s Novels, Seraph on the Suwanee and Their Eyes Were Watching G

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Significance of the Porch in Hurston’s Novels, Seraph on the Suwanee and Their Eyes Were Watching God

“She took to inviting other women friends to drop in and they all expressed envy of her porch. It built Avray up and made her feel more inside of things. It was a kind of throne room, and out there, Avray felt that she could measure arms and cope. Just looking around gave her courage. Out there, Avray had the courage to visit the graveyard of years and dig up dates and examine them cheerfully.” (Seraph on the Suwanee 234)

“It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. The became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.” (Their Eyes Were Watching God 1)

In Seraph on the Suwanee and Their Eyes Were Watching God, the physical structure of the porch serves to both literally and figuratively elevate its sitters, and becomes an arena for exploring the theme of inside versus outside spaces.

Avray’s porch in Seraph on the Suwanee is associated with a higher standard of living and is the envy of her visitors. At first, Avray is unsure about this new, “outside show of ownership.” (234) Avray is uncertain about her right to belong to this class of folk and as a result feels inner turmoil about whether or not she deserves such privilege. Her initial conflift with the porch mimics her desire to “[brace] herself to glory in her folks” despite her disgust with their old junk, cracked dishes, and shabby house. Over time, Avray found it easier to rejoice in the comforts of her new life. As she reclined further back into the chaise lounges and cushions of her class, her porch became a place of pride and courage. The use of the metaphor that describes the porch as a throne (and hence the porch-sitters as royalty) reinforces the idea of an elevated social status and its implied protection.

Similar to Avray’s porch, Phoeby’s porch in Their Eyes Were Watching God is a social place. Those who sit out on the porch feel free reign to pass judgment on those who walk by.

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Similar to the idea of the porch sitters in Seraph on the Suwanee being royalty, the women on Phoeby’s porch are referred to as lords. Yet, like Avray, Phoeby expresses hesitance about her place. She is unsure about her “right” to pass judgment on others just because she is in a different position than he or she. Phoeby does not partake in gossiping with her peers about Janie, and instead pays her friend a visit.

In both novels, the porch is symbolic for the relationship between position and power. The porch, as an outside, public display, seems to support the idea of maintaining an image or exterior. Yet, as Avray’s and Phoeby’s situations show, this physical reign is not always free from conflict and cannot completely hide what is on the inside.

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