Their Eyes were Watching God Analysis

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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In today’s society, head shawls are commonly worn for religious purposes or used as accessories. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, it was used to hide someone’s beauty and identity. Throughout the book, Janie’s hair changes from being let down to tied up due to the forceful request upon her husband at the time, Jody. As Zora Neale Hurston writes in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie’s hair symbolizes her independence throughout the different times during her lifetime and the transitions between Janie’s hair style contributes to the normally white male power that she exerts, which assist her distort traditional power relationships throughout the book.

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Janie’s beautiful hair was a distraction to men but it represented a lot about her character. Her foreshadowing return at the beginning of the book where she returns home, instantly being judged describes the reactions from many like, “The men noticed… the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume” (Hurston 2). Janie’s hair represents strength and individuality. By her refusal to put it up, she expresses strength which gives her attention and a step towards possessing power. The town’s critique illustrates how it is considered undignified for a woman of Janie’s age and race, being a black female in her forties, to wear her hair down. Not only did her hair display her strength, but she was praised for being born with alluring hair. Mrs.

Turner approves of her own physical features that are unique from her race making her lean towards the urge to be white, so that was, “her way of thinking all these things set her aside from Negroes. That was why she sought out Janie to friend with. Janie’s coffee-and-cream complexion and her luxurious hair made Mrs.Turner forgive her for wearing overalls like the other women who worked in the fields” (Hurston 140). Because both Janie and Mrs.Turner both have white tendencies and characteristics, they are able to relate to each other and create a friendship out of that. Mrs.Turner worships Janie because of her lovely braids and the attraction of men she brings. This benefits Janie’s desires to have even greater power with Tea Cake since Jody Starks dies of liver failure.

On the other side of the spectrum, the theme of power and control plays a vital role with Janie’s hair. Jody knew it was too beautiful to be seen out in public so, “Her hair was NOT going to show in the store. It didn’t seem sensible at all. That was because Joe never told Janie how jealous he was. He never told her how often he had seen the other men figuratively wallowing in it as she went about things in the store… That night he ordered Janie to tie up her hair around the store” (Hurston 55). This introduces the conflict of Jody’s control and Janie failed to see this possessive side of him before they marry. Janie’s shawl shows constraints imposed on subjugated women by men in power.

By forcing her to wear this item, it takes away her identity while for Jody, he is able to stay with her without becoming jealous. From this point on in their relationship, her independence began to diminish. Not long after his passing, Janie celebrates her liberation and so, “She went over to the dresser and looked hard at her skin and features. The young girl was gone, but a handsome woman had taken her place. She tore off the Kerchief from her head and let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there. She took careful stock of herself, then combed her hair and tied it back up again” (Hurston 87). After Joe’s death, Janie was not hesitate to burn the shawls he demanded her to wear. She felt like her true self again, with the presence of her glorious hair. She was able to style it herself the way she wanted it after finding a man who accepted her, Tea Cake.

These two symbols, Janie’s hair and her shawl work hand in hand to result in strength and beauty and most importantly, power. Janie’s hair is constantly described as a symbol of power which dims gender lines and threatens Jody. Even though when it’s down and characterizes Janie, those attributes were hidden under the oppression and security of Jody. The shawl made her lose that power which therefore took away her identity. Even when under the control of her husband, Janie’s life played out in a way where her hair gave back her strength and control after the burning of the encapsulating shawls. The independence she held was accepted from her next lover which made her acquire equality and her hair showed beauty from then on. 

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Their Eyes Were Watching God Analysis. (2021, Apr 20). Retrieved from