The novel Their eyes were watching god by Zora Neal Hurston presents a character of marvelous beauty that she was almost considered the queen of her town. The main theme of the novel is that men’s dreams are like ships that sail forever at the horizon never out of sight but never landing and yet out of resignation dreams are shattered by time. The author tackles the culture of Black people struggles in the 20th century United States whereby she presents a special enchanting character who is introduced as Janie Starks Crawford. Janie is a forty year old woman and her swinging hair is the object of love for some as well as the object of admonish for others.
One of the witnesses of the hair of Janie stereotype Janie’s hair to beauty but since beauty is a characteristic of the young and beautiful the ma inquires in his thoughts “What dat ole forty year ole 'oman doin' wid her hair swingin' down her back lak some young gal?” (Zora 1). Youth, energy, power and beauty are the main themes that are metaphorically recognized in the long, swaying hair that reached to her back; though undertones of the theme of feminine sexuality is strongly implied by long swinging and swaying Janie hair in which most men see a goddess walking instead of a mere girl who had just lost her boyfriend.
Pheoby Watson is Janie’s close friend and ally who usually supply her with foodstuffs and meals such as supper. She talks to other ladies in the market who keep complaining about the age of Janie. Indeed, many women view Janie as a potential husband threat because of her refinished and sophisticated looks and particularly her hair. Nevertheless, Pheoby stands and informs the audience the truth that the reason behind the cold blood relationship between Janie and other women is in her wonderful hair that made her look younger and more sexually appealing that all men always drooled whenever they saw her pass towards her gate. Janie’s hair metaphorically controls masculine emotions and therefore men and their power fall at her feet for the benefit of touching her hair.
The physical attributes of Janie that represents her sexuality are mentioned as the most spectacular portion of her body that make her look stunning besides her hair; “The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to b ore holes in her shirt.”(Zora 1). Ironically while men stored every aspect of beauty about Janie’s hair in their minds, the women who look disgusted at the way Janie is receiving attention fold away their “faded shirts and muddy overalls” wishful thinking that one day Janie’s beauty would shrivel up and she would end up like them in the streets.
Consequently, Pheoby Watson comes out defending Janie’s innocence in her statement that the only crime that Janie had committed was to stay and look younger than her real age. Therefore, the theme of jealousy is enhanced through Janie’s hair that though it is adorned as beautiful, other women see her hair as the cause of their men’s desire to have Janie instead of them. Janie experiences an orgasm while sitting under a pear tree an act that was free from patriarchal control to represent her independent nature as a woman (Ducille 110). Therefore, hair is used to enhance the themes of love, sex and marriage within the novel.
Janie’s hair is a metaphor of beauty and life cycles as well. Janie first married Logan Killicks a farmer before getting down with Jody who was a local mayor to attain class and accentuate her looks but eventually, the marriage was annulled when Jody dies and she ran away into another man 12 years younger than her age known as Tea Cake. Therefore, the marriage life cycle of Janie is literally likened to her hair, she marries out people like wearing hair that one can cut out and grow new hair. That is why she marries Tea Cake only nine months after her husband’s demise to the surprise of many people. However, she has now returned again to her home Eatonville in Florida after losing Tea Cake to rabies and madness. However, the town people assume that Tea Cake must have deserted Janie and ran off with her money in order to emphasize the theme of prostitution in marriage life.
Power is a broad theme in the novel. Nevertheless, Janie’s hair is a symbol of her independent and satisfaction with herself at the end of the novel when she has gotten rid of every man from her life. The stubborn Joe forces Janie to tie her hair up and never to talk to anyone in order to subjugate and overcome the feminine power that was quite stunning in Janie’s hair. According to Bertram Ashe, Janie’s hair is the source of her profound self esteem and confidence that when she was confronted by Joe to always tie it up she felt like a prisoner in his control (579). Also, Janie’s hair is a representation of her racial attributes since she her father was a Caucasian as compared to other black girls who had kinky and short hair she represents the dreamy state of satisfaction that most African American girls missed.
Transformation within the character and the life of Janie is hidden in her hair such that whenever she combs it thinking, she ultimately achieves her desires. Janie is alienated from other black people because of her marriage to a mayor and she feels an urge to change when she combs her hair thinking of on how she would transform herself to dominate the community space instead of merely occupying her dominant space as a wife to a political man who hurt her feelings for overworking her in the store as well as cautioning her against wearing her wonderful hair as she pleased. Therefore, the emancipation of the feminine power is found within Janie’s hair and whenever she interacts with her hair she finds solutions to her life challenges.
Erik Current insists that slavery did interfere with the outward representation of the beauty of the black society such that Janie’s hair is a idolized as a representation of the black race achievement in demonstration of long and free falling hair (20). Moreover through the hair of Janie, the audience realizes that the rest of the black community hate Janie for her long hair that makes her look exemplary in all aspects. Eventually, like hair that fades over time due to unkemptness, Janie must have succumbed to rabies and died as foreshadowed in the novel since she was bitten by Tea Cake before he died.