Their Eyes Were Watching God

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The Hurricane Symbol Analysis

The Hurricane Symbol Icon
The hurricane symbolizes the all-powerful force of nature, which trumps even the most intense exertions of power by humans, such as Jody's abusive need for control, or Mrs. Turner's sense of racial hierarchy, or Tea Cake's physical strength. While the pear tree, also a symbolic element in nature, symbolizes the idea of harmony – between humans and nature, between sex and love – the hurricane symbolizes the senselessness of nature and its ultimate disregard for human needs. It is during the novel's climactic hurricane scene that Janie, Tea Cake and Motor Boat contemplate the existence of God most explicitly for the first time in the novel, questioning his existence and whether or not he even cares about humans if he does, in fact, exist.

The Hurricane Quotes in Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Their Eyes Were Watching God quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Hurricane. 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 18 Quotes

The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.

Related Symbols: The Hurricane
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

Janie and Tea Cake (and Motor Boat) disregard the hurricane warnings — the quiet air, the fleeing animals — and remain by the lake during the storm. The winds are fiercer than they anticipate, extinguishing their last lamp and leaving them in the dark. 

This is one of the novel's most exciting and harrowing scenes, and it's a scene in which nature plays a crucial role. Janie and Tea Cake suffer for their arrogance, their faith in nice weather and safety, and they learn that they are at the mercy of nature, not in control of it. In a way, this moment reminds readers of Janie's early encounters with nature — as she examines the pear tree, she understands that her own life should follow similar patterns of desire and love. And yet when she and Tea Cake do not accept that they belong to the natural world, the storm mocks them with its power. 

Of course, this passage also contains within it the novel's title: they seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God. Not only does this render the scene even more climactic, but it also asks readers to consider how this moment sheds light on the book's general themes. What role does God play in Hurston's work? Might the passage about Mrs. Turner's piety have something to do with this quote?


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Chapter 19 Quotes

Tea Cake was lying with his eyes closed and Janie hoped he was asleep. He wasn't. A great fear had took hold of him. What was this thing that set his brains fire and grabbed at his throat with iron fingers? Where did it come from and why did it hang around him?

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Related Symbols: The Hurricane
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Tea Cake and Janie return to the muck, following the former's brief but unpleasant stint as a gravedigger. However, Tea Cake soon falls ill, having contracted rabies during the hurricane. In despair, Janie pleads with an unresponsive God. 

Tea Cake's disease is not only a direct consequence of the hurricane, but also a reminder that the young man belongs to the natural world and must abide by its laws. One lyrical rhetorical question follows another in this passage and the answer is obvious to the reader, if not to Janie and Tea Cake: nature has "set his brains fire" because of his arrogance, his refusal to heed any warning. For the first time, Tea Cake is more object than subject, the passive victim of "great fear" and "iron fingers." (Even Hurston's grammar reflects this change.)  

Hurston uses the expression "hang around" in an earlier passage too, describing Janie's fear of abandonment in Chapter 13. With this repetition in mind, readers can consider how Janie's flaws and Tea Cake's unite and separate them all at once. 

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The Hurricane Symbol Timeline in Their Eyes Were Watching God

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Hurricane appears in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 18
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...where they're going. The Indians reply that they're going to higher ground, explaining that a hurricane is coming. Fear about the potential hurricane buzzes through the muck as more Indians continue... (full context)
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...some friends over, all of whom decide to remain in the muck despite the oncoming hurricane, and they begin to celebrate – eating, singing and dancing as other town dwellers continue... (full context)
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
...Cake and Janie's home to seek shelter in their own homes. The arrival of the hurricane is intensely violent, marked by "screaming wind…crashing…things hurtling and dashing with unbelievable velocity." Janie, Tea... (full context)