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Uses of Metonymy in Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Words: 825 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 825|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Porch as a Symbol of Community and Conformity
  3. The Mule as a Symbol of Oppression and Resilience
  4. Conclusion

Introduction

Zora Neale Hurston's novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God," is a masterpiece of American literature that delves deep into the complexities of race, gender, and identity in the early 20th century South. One of the striking features of the novel is Hurston's adept use of metonymy, a rhetorical device where one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated. Through metonymy, Hurston imbues ordinary objects and occurrences with profound symbolic meaning, enriching the narrative and shedding light on the experiences of the characters. This essay will explore the various instances of metonymy in the novel, examining their significance and how they contribute to the broader themes and motifs explored by Hurston.

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The Porch as a Symbol of Community and Conformity

One of the most prominent examples of metonymy in "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is the porch, which serves as a symbol of community and conformity in Janie's world. Throughout the novel, the porch is depicted as a gathering place for the residents of Eatonville, where they come together to socialize, exchange gossip, and engage in discussions. However, beneath its seemingly innocuous exterior, the porch also embodies the oppressive forces of conformity and patriarchal dominance within the community.

Hurston illustrates this dual nature of the porch through vivid descriptions and subtle nuances in the interactions of its occupants. For example, when Janie's husband Joe Starks takes a seat in his "high chair" on the porch, it symbolizes his position of power and authority within the community, as well as the expectation of conformity among the men who gather there. The men's misogynistic talk and laughter at the expense of women further reinforce the patriarchal dynamics at play, highlighting the ways in which the porch serves as a microcosm of wider societal norms and expectations.

Moreover, Hurston's use of metonymy extends beyond the physical space of the porch to encompass the collective identity of its occupants. By referring to the men as a unified entity that "boils" with shared sentiments and views, she underscores the homogeneity and lack of individuality that characterizes their interactions. This metonymic representation of the community underscores the challenges faced by Janie and other marginalized individuals who struggle to assert their own identities in the face of societal pressure to conform.

The Mule as a Symbol of Oppression and Resilience

Another powerful example of metonymy in "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is the mule, which serves as a symbol of oppression and resilience in Janie's life. Throughout the novel, the mule is repeatedly used as a metaphor for the plight of black women in a patriarchal society, highlighting the ways in which they are exploited, marginalized, and silenced.

Hurston employs metonymy to draw parallels between Janie's experiences and those of the mule, emphasizing their shared struggles and resilience in the face of adversity. For example, when Janie witnesses the mistreatment of a mule by its owner, it serves as a poignant reminder of her own subjugation at the hands of men like Joe Starks. The mule's eventual demise at the hands of its cruel master symbolizes the ways in which black women are systematically oppressed and dehumanized by the dominant forces in society.

Furthermore, Hurston's use of metonymy allows her to explore the complex interplay between race, gender, and identity in Janie's life. By equating Janie with the mule, she highlights the ways in which Janie's mixed-race heritage and gender identity intersect to shape her experiences and perceptions of the world around her. This metonymic representation of Janie's identity adds depth and complexity to her character, enriching the reader's understanding of her struggles and triumphs.

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Conclusion

Zora Neale Hurston's use of metonymy in "Their Eyes Were Watching God" serves as a powerful literary device that enhances the novel's thematic depth and complexity. Through symbols such as the porch and the mule, Hurston explores the nuances of race, gender, and identity in the early 20th century South, shedding light on the experiences of marginalized individuals like Janie. By delving into the symbolic significance of these metonymic representations, readers gain a deeper appreciation for the novel's timeless themes and enduring relevance. Hurston's masterful use of metonymy elevates "Their Eyes Were Watching God" from a mere work of fiction to a profound meditation on the human condition and the quest for self-discovery and empowerment.

References:

  1. Gates, H. L., Jr. (1990). The ethnographic ‘I’: A methodological novel about autoethnography. In H. L. Gates Jr. (Ed.), Reading black, reading feminist: A critical anthology (pp. 95-118). Meridian Books.
  2. Hemenway, R. E. (1977). Zora Neale Hurston: A literary biography. University of Illinois Press.
  3. Jones, S. (1990). ‘What’s love got to do with it?’: Reading and misreading Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’. In H. L. Gates Jr. (Ed.), Reading black, reading feminist: A critical anthology (pp. 133-144). Meridian Books.
  4. Walker, A. (1982). In search of Zora Neale Hurston. Ms., 10(4), 74-79.
  5. Wall, C. A. (1990). Their eyes were watching God: Revisioning folklore in Hurston’s novel. In H. L. Gates Jr. (Ed.), Reading black, reading feminist: A critical anthology (pp. 145-156). Meridian Books.
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Uses of Metonymy in Their Eyes Were Watching God. (2018, Jun 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/uses-of-metonymy-in-their-eyes-were-watching-god/
“Uses of Metonymy in Their Eyes Were Watching God.” GradesFixer, 05 Jun. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/uses-of-metonymy-in-their-eyes-were-watching-god/
Uses of Metonymy in Their Eyes Were Watching God. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/uses-of-metonymy-in-their-eyes-were-watching-god/> [Accessed 25 Feb. 2024].
Uses of Metonymy in Their Eyes Were Watching God [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Jun 05 [cited 2024 Feb 25]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/uses-of-metonymy-in-their-eyes-were-watching-god/
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