Theevolution of language is not new to the American experience. Variousauthors have used different languages in their writings, with thechanges happening gradually and sometimes accidentally. Nevertheless,the black artists have been effective in altering and reversing thepejorative meaning of the words. For instance, Fredrick Douglass inthe ‘Narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglass’ has tried totrace famous reversal meanings. He overturns the beliefs of Blacksbeing lesser than human. Similarly, black women in ‘Their eyes werewatching God’ by Zora Hurston’ portrays the struggles of s blackwoman through use of strong sense of language.
Thispaper approaches the power of language in the two literary works byZora Hurston and Fredrick Douglass. The patterns of imagery andmetaphors in the two novels have been analyzed.
Innarratives, use of metaphor involves use of language that transferswords and things from their proper meanings to the impropersimilitude, with the aim of emphasizing an idea. Imagery enlivens theordinary language andencourages interpretation by readers and listeners.
Inthe novel ‘Their eyes were watching God’, Janie,the protagonist, has been illustrated using figurative language. Thenovel narrates her journey into womanhood and the highs of her newlove. Her deepest lows of love have also been lost amidst tragedythrough use of evocative language and imagery(Hurston 5).
Throughoutthe narrative, the Hurston has constantly used pear tree as arepresentation of womanhood. For instance, he comments that ‘thepear tree may flower or fail to flower’. This was to imply the hardcircumstances that Janie was undergoing, especially her experiencewith her three husbands. The author has used Janie’s hair torepresent feminine beauty. For instance, we can see Janie’s secondhusband demanding that she, Janie, should cover her head using a ragat all times. This is in essence of making her cover the femininity.Also, the husband demands that she should be in overall at all times.After the death of the husband, Janie continues dressing in overallsince she had liked the man. However, she uncovered her hair and worebraids that swung freely(Hurston 13).
Generally,the novel by Hurston has used metaphors throughout the context.Animalshave been constantly been used as symbols to illustrate Janie`sstruggle in conforming her nanny’s definition of a black woman. Thetwo commonly used animals are bees and mule. Themule has been used virtually across two thirds of the novel making itbe the most prominent metaphor. The mule, as used in the novel, isspelt out for the readers during the time that Janie`s grandmothercompared the African-American women to the mules. Janie`s first twolovers, Jody and Logan, owned mules, and their treatment of Janie iscompared to the way they treated their mules. While Janie isperceived by Logan, the first husband, as a worker rather than apartner, Jody, her second husband, considers Janie as a trophy.However, the mule metaphor disappears after the death of Jody. Thisis because the third lover to Janie, Tea Cake considers her as apartner(Hurston 17).
Theauthor has placed mule at the center stage with dilapidated mulebeing used as the subject for the front porch banter by men folk inwhich Janie is not supposed to take part in. She, Janie, stronglyreacts when men tease and maltreat the old mule. She felt that thosepeople were to be ashamed of themselves for teasing the mule. Shesympathizes with the old mule as she considered herself to haveundergone similar hardships in the hands of her lovers. This makesthe reader reflect back to the Nanny’s words when she compared theblack woman with a mule. During the time of her comments, Jody hadbought a mule but he never made it work(Hurston 20).
Infurther imagery, a mule is a horse-donkey crossbreed, hence barren.Until Tea Cake married Janie, she used to be like a mule, and wasunable to bring forth children. She lacked ‘blossomy openings thatwere dusting pollen over her men, and they neither had any glisteringyoung fruits that held petals previously’(Hurston 27).
Onthe other hand, bee has been used by Hurston as a stark contrast tothe youthful vision that Janie had, especially during her recurrentmarriages to tea Cake, Logan and Jody. Janie was only sixteen yearsduring her first marriage. Despite the young age, she anticipatedfinding ‘kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world!..` Inher first marriage to Logan, it was her grandmother who had set itup, but ironically, Janie’s life became exactly how the grandmotherhad feared "demule uh de world" where the husband controlled Janie. Despitethe prayers of the grandmother, Janie became miserable. Logan hadcrushed her hopes of getting the perfect pear tree or beerelationship(Hurston29).
Afterthe death of Logan, Janie wedded Jody hoping that things would getmuch better. However, according to her instincts, the man was a wrongtake and never represented her rightful bee. She believed that Jodynever represented pollen and sun-up and blooming trees. Nevertheless,the marriage to Jody renewed some hope in her of ‘finding a bee forher bloom.` She vowed to have springtime and flower dust sprinkledover everything till her demise.
Janie’sthird husband gives her a chance to become what she had alwaysadmired. She believed that Tea Cake was her true bee. When they madelove, the author uses the imagery of Janie arching her body to meetthat of her lover after which they felt asleep in the sweetexhaustion. By Janie finding her bee man, Tea Cake, she becamesatisfied with the journey to self-fulfillment.
Onthe other hand, metaphors in Fredrick Douglass have been used todepict the challenges that slaves were undergoing. Douglasshas used metaphors to portray slavery as a ‘horrible pit lackingthe means of getting out.` This metaphor addresses the idea ofphysical abuse and mental slavery. Douglass represents state ofignorance by which slaveholders confined the slaves. The horrible pitrepresented deprivation of institution of slavery and slaveholdersthe physical means through which slaves could have freed themselves. Therefore, horrible pit is a clear representation of mental darkness.The process of coming out of the pit is used to reflect the freedomof the slaves, which can only be achieved with the help of an aid, inthis case, becoming literate.
Douglassspeaks of himself as being in the horrible pit with no ladder to getout. The ladder can be equated to means through which a slave learnshow to read and write. He believes that Mr. Hugh incited in him thedesire to learn alphabets, and this was the beginning of his freedomfrom slavery getting out of the pit. Douglass metaphorically uses‘horrible pit’ to imply physical bondage, with the endeavor by aslave to escape regarded as futile. He likened it to climbing out ofthe pit using the hands. In this case, the missing ladder representspurposeful deprivation of the means through which a slave couldbecome free. At the same time, an escape from slavery is portrayed asimpossible, and it is a process which should be achieved gradually,just like the steps of a ladder that is climbed rung-by-rung(Douglass46).
Toleave the horrible pit, Douglass advocates the ability by the slaveto grasp each rung, which is a complicated endeavor. He believes thatproblems of the legal tender, as well as ability to climb freelyconstitute next rung of the ladder. Thismeant that possession of a single necessity was not a guarantee tofreedom as depicted by his experience after achieving slight victoryfrom Mr. Covey, he could not still become completely free. He arguedthat the achievement was only because Covey allowed it for the lowclass slaveholders he could not have risked losing (Douglass47).
Inliterary text, imagery entails use of descriptive and vivid languagein order to add the depth of the written work. This is meant toappeal to the human senses by enhancing an understanding of the ideaput across by the author. The authors can use beautiful or horridimages to emphasis their ideas.
In‘Their eyes were watching God’ by Hurston, visual imagery hasbeen extensively used.Hurston has drawn comparisons between elements of nature and humanbeings. For instance, in his description of Janie’s demeanor, hecompares her with ‘ironed thing’ that is stiffened to resolveduring the funeral of her husband.Thiskind of writing is used to illustrate how Janie felt after the deathof her second husband. Itwas painful for her to lose her beloved, and this has been emphasizedthrough imagery.
Also,Hurston has used lake and hurricane at the climax of the novel. Thetwo, lake and hurricane, have been used figuratively to representthe capriciousness of nature, as well as the impersonal mannerthrough which the nature inflicts the wrath on man. In this case,images illustrate the incapability of a man to control nature. First,hurricane is a monster hence, it cannot be controlled. Second, thelake is likened to the inevitable nature Hurston depicts it asanimal-like, impersonal and unbeatable. This is through the way itleaves the banks and sweeps over people from their homes and tries toflee the storm. The third lover, Tea Cake believes in himself and hisability of beating it. Unfortunately, he is defeated by it (Hurston31).
Onthe other hand, in Douglass’s Narrative, imagery has been used todescribe the heart wrenching experience of the slave children inplantations. Douglass described them as undergoing the dehumanizationprocess. He said that their feet were racked with ‘frost in such away that the pen could be laid in gnashes’. Such a painfuldescription highlights empathy for a mistreated child whose ‘crime’was as a result of being born to a black woman.
Furthermore,Douglass uses animal imagery to show the manner and conditionsthrough which the children fed. He described the food as being the‘coarse cornmeal boiled’ which was served in big wooden traysafter which the children, like ‘many pigs’ would be called to eatthe mush. Through this imagery, the author points out the deplorableconditions through which the slave children lived, similar to thoseof animals (Douglass73).
Fromthe analysis of the literary work presented in this paper from thetwo authors, the power of language is clearly seen through their useof metaphors and imagery in their work. While Hurston passed on thetheme of misery among African-American women, Douglass emphasizes thedehumanizing conditions of slavery and recommended for increasedliteracy of the slaves to enhance their way to freedom.
Metaphorsand imagery imparts obstades passed on by emotional, case of Janie in‘Their eyes were watching God’, and physical and mentaloppression, in Douglass Narrative. The two authors, Hurston andDouglass have succeeded in their use of metaphor and imagery toreinforce their theme of painful and disturbing life realities.
Douglass,Frederick. Narrativeof the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave.Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
Hurston,Zora Neale. TheirEyes Were Watching God: A Novel.New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.