Their Eyes Were Watching God
How we cite our quotes:
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 bore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day. (1.8)
Janie’s figure evokes two very different sets of responses from the porch. The men simply lust after her and try to memorize her appearance to bring pleasure later. The women, however, driven by jealousy, look for flaws and find them in Janie’s unconventional and masculine dress, storing them up as ammunition to fire against her later.
It was a spring afternoon in West Florida. Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back-yard. She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that three for the last three days. That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously. How? Why? It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again. What? How? Why? This singing she heard that had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her flesh. Now they emerged and quested about her consciousness. (2.13)
Janie’s fascination with the pear tree blossoms coincides with her emergence as a sexual being – one that is "stirred" into existence, feels the "caress[es]" of her waking sexual nature. With all these changes in her body, she begins to question ("What? How? Why?") things come into being.
She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid. (2.14)
The pear blossoms and bee have an undeniably sexual overtone here. The leaf-buds are described as having a "snowy virginity" whose scent sensuously "caress[es]" Janie "in her sleep." To naïve little Janie, the penetration of the bee into the bloom is a "love embrace" whose "ecstatic shiver" creates a "creaming in every blossom and a frothing of delight." This sounds suspiciously like the overwhelming passion and ejaculation of sexual intercourse. And it leaves young Janie feeling "limp and languid," as a woman might after orgasming. This experience, ironically, both seems to take Janie’s virginity by introducing her so sensually to sex, and also preserve her innocence by building such a romantic ideal for her future lovers to live up to.