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Stephen Moock AP English 12 Mrs. Jolly 5 September, 2007 Symbols Present in The Awakening and Their Eyes Were Watching God Independence and repression are two subjects that are widely addressed in novels. While by some means they are straightforward topics, authors often incorporate symbols into their writing that are used to broaden the symbols into universal themes. Chopin’s The Awakening and Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God are two novels rich in symbols that effectively portray universal themes such as entrapment within society and what lies ahead on the horizon. Janie’s hair is a complex symbol that is present in Their Eyes Were Watching God. It can be interpreted as many things all of which are intertwined to Janie’s character and the experiences she faces during the novel. In a way Janie’s hair gives her the identity as a black woman different from all of the rest. Being straight, her hair is beautiful and envied by many women. This is one of the reasons that men view Janie as beautiful even as she gets into midlife when most other women become less attractive. Not only did the straightness of Janie’s hair make it beautiful, but it also gave her white characteristics which gave her a unique identity in a predominately black community. While in the Everglades, Mrs. Turner loved Janie for her hair and the Caucasian appearance it gave her. While her hair was a means of identity for Janie, it was often used as a means of controlling her and making her conform to society. During her marriage to Jody, Janie was forced to wear her hair up and wrapped in a rag every day. This caused Janie to feel oppressed. She wanted to express the hair that gave her an identity, but she was trapped, living in the box that Jody created for her. This in turn led to Janie’s hair as being a

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symbol of power and independence. When Jody died, Janie started wearing her hair down again which gave her a new sense of worth in life. In the same way that Janie’s hair represents identity but also entrapment, the Birds in The Awakening represent freedom and are used to express the confinement that Edna feels throughout the story. In the story, birds are usually referred to in a caged environment. This not only depicts that feeling of being caged that Edna feels, but also the entrapment of the whole Victorian woman. This lifestyle left no room for married woman to express themselves. Even the “winged” women who were capable of rational thought outside of cooking and caring for the kids were trapped by society. As Edna was experiencing her awakenings, she became closer to escaping the cage she was trapped inside, but she always found herself ending up inside another cage of oppression. Edna’s suicide was her last strive to escape from the cage of society. In a way she failed, because all of her attempts at breaking away from the stereotypical Victorian woman. However, her suicide could also be interpreted as the Victorian lifestyle coming to an end. As a contrast from the individualism and encasement that the previous symbols implied, the pear tree is a symbol for human interaction with nature as well as what the future will hold. As Janie is dreaming about the bees and the pear tree, she is in a relaxed state of mind. This is where she experiences a harmony in nature that she wishes she can duplicate in her real life. This is symbolic of how nature is in perfect balance, but even though humans are part of nature, life can seem chaotic at times. Janie’s dream is for her life to achieve a nature-like balance. This is what she sees on her own horizon, and she finally achieves something close to this with her marriage to Tea Cake.

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The sea as a symbol in The Awakening has a similar meaning to that of the pear tree. The sea is a place where solitude can be found. It offers a form of intimate interaction with nature that is hard to replicate. Being surrounded in the water provides a form of rejuvenation. It creates a sense of being alone, but at the same time, in the center of a massive body. That is why it is a place of freedom from the real world for Edna. In the sea she had her first awakening, and in the sea she had her last.