Their Eyes Were Watching God

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The Horizon Symbol Analysis

The Horizon Symbol Icon
Janie invokes the symbol of the horizon repeatedly throughout the novel; to Janie, the horizon symbolizes the realm of the possible, that which she can dream about. During her arranged marriage with Logan Killicks, Janie remarks that the stylish and ambitious Jody Starks shows her a glimpse of the horizon, meaning that he provides her with a vision of what her life could be like. Though after Jody, too, turns out to treat Janie poorly and stifle her voice, it is Tea Cake who ultimately provides Janie with access to the horizon: in her marriage with Tea Cake, Janie is able to find love, sexual satisfaction, independence ,and self-expression all at once, that which she has always dreamed of. For that reason, even after Tea Cakes death, Janie feels that she still has and always will have access to the metaphorical horizon.

The Horizon Quotes in Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Their Eyes Were Watching God quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Horizon. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper Perennial edition of Their Eyes Were Watching God published in 2006.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by time. That is the life of men.

Related Symbols: The Horizon
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

This abstract, almost allegorical paragraph opens the novel. Janie has not yet appeared, striding back through Eatonville after a long disappearance. 

In these first crucial sentences, Hurston introduces independence and desire as two of the novel's themes: here, the unnamed men look towards the ever-receding horizon, a symbol of freedom and possibility. These men all want the ships' invisible, imagined cargo, though some cannot access it and so they turn away "in resignation." (Note that Hurston calls these individuals "Watchers," gesturing to the book's title.) Janie, the protagonist, grapples with her own desire for independence and fulfilling romantic love throughout the novel, explaining to Pheoby (several chapters later) that she has traveled to "de horizon and back."

However, the word "men" is hardly synonymous with mankind — Hurston describes women in the next paragraph, women who "forget all those thins they don't want to remember" and display much more pragmatism than men. In this way, readers begin to understand the importance of gender in the novel, as well as Janie's own curious position in society. Her desire for independence and experience seems more stereotypically masculine than feminine, alienating her from men and women alike. 


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Chapter 4 Quotes

Janie pulled back a long time because he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Jody Starks
Related Symbols: The Horizon, The Pear Tree
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Janie meets Jody Starks while Logan is away, buying a second mule in Lake City. She is intrigued by his "citified, stylish" manner, and they end up meeting every day and discussing his ambitions. In this section, Janie has not yet decided to elope with him, but harbors certain doubts "because he [does] not represent sun-up and pollen."

Here, Janie has a sort of premonition, a sense that Jody will not provide the love and passion she so desperately desires: he has nothing of the pear tree about him, but only the "far horizon." Yet the horizon is still an important symbol to Janie, and Jody's worldliness and style give her a glimpse of the world beyond her small town. She wants experience and excitement in addition to a perfect love; though Jody can only deliver the former, she still decides to run off with him, abandoning Logan (who offers neither). 

Chapter 9 Quotes

Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon – for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you – and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter's neck tight enough to choke her.

Related Characters: Nanny Crawford
Related Symbols: The Horizon
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

In the days after Jody's death, Janie contemplates her past, including her relationship with Nanny. She feels a sudden resentment towards her grandmother, who married her off to a loveless, greedy man.

Janie's eyes always drift back to the horizon in Hurston's novel; here, the word "horizon" seems to mean love (or marriage). As a young woman, Janie wanted nothing more than a fulfilling romantic life, and yet Nanny used her granddaughter's desire against her, coercing her into marriage. Janie dreamed of love, the horizon, and Nanny "pinched it" into a more convenient shape, a profitable alliance with a rich man, but one that also ended up choking her. 

Not only does this visceral image remind readers of slavery and Nanny's own life as a slave, but it raises essential questions: How can language shape reality? How can Janie control her own story? Nanny uses rhetoric as a weapon against Janie; however, the younger woman herself emerges as the final narrator, recounting her story to Pheoby. (Note Hurston's use of the second person — "the horizon is still way beyond you" — in a section about authority and voice.)

Chapter 20 Quotes

"Ah done been tuh de horizon and back and now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons. Dis house ain't so absent of things lak it used tuh be befo' Tea Cake come along. It's full uh thoughts, 'specially dat bedroom."

Related Characters: Janie Crawford (speaker), Tea Cake
Related Symbols: The Horizon
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Having wrapped up her tale, Janie tells Pheoby that she is ready to begin her life in Eatonville anew. Her experiences of the world do not torment her so much as provide her with happy memories.

In the novel's opening paragraph, Hurston describes the bleak "life of men," those who keep their eyes trained on the horizon and yet never move towards it. Janie follows her own path, however, and Hurston reintroduces the horizon in the novel's final chapter in order to differentiate these unhappy men from Janie, who has 'been tuh de horizon and back." Despite setbacks and hurricanes and abuse, Janie finds companionship and love, as well as independence. (Her use of the first person and the possessive "mah house" is especially powerful.) 

Janie tells Pheoby that her house is no longer "absent of things" — in this way, Hurston makes a sort of reflexive gesture towards the power of narrative. Janie's own life story will keep her company in the coming years. 

Of course he wasn't dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish net…She called in her soul to come and see.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Related Symbols: The Horizon
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Janie retires for the night, yet she stays up reliving her recent memories of Tea Cake's death and the trial. She understands that Tea Cake can "never be dead" as long as she protects his memory.

This is a striking image — a person's thoughts and memories projected "against the wall" — not dissimilar from Janie's moment of anxiety in Chapter 13, when her fear makes "itself into pictures and [hangs around her bedside] all night long." In other words, Huston imagines a world in which the boundary between internal and external is porous. Readers might consider whether or not this permeability relates to the boundary between omniscient narration and dialogue in the novel.

Not only does Hurston circle back to the first chapter by way of the symbolic horizon, but she hints at an ocean in both moments, too. She mentions a ship in the first paragraph and a "great fish-net" in the final one, giving a slight Biblical undercurrent to her work. (In the New Testament, Christ calls his disciples "fishers of men," and several of them are former fishermen.) With this ending and the obvious connections between fishing and storytelling, Hurston turns her novel into a sort of fairytale. Their Eyes Were Watching God is about both the language of power and the power of language. 

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The Horizon Symbol Timeline in Their Eyes Were Watching God

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Horizon appears in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...about her; without any elaboration or detail, Janie explains that she has traveled "tuh de horizon and back." She has returned to Eatonville because Tea Cake is gone and she was... (full context)
Chapter 4
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
...Joe does not "represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees," he nonetheless "spoke for far horizon," and this is why she finds herself so attracted to him. (full context)
Chapter 9
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
...taught Janie as a child. Specifically, Janie says that Nanny took the idea of the horizon and limited it "to such a little bit of a thing." In other words, Janie... (full context)
Chapter 20
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...telling her that she is satisfied to be home, as she has "been tuh the horizon and back." Janie expresses awareness of the judgments she will face now, but that she... (full context)