Their Eyes Were Watching God introduces the motifs and symbols behind race and hair by use of character Janie Mae Crawford, whose long, straight hair and biracial roots are the sources of triumph, defiance, and independence for this woman unfit for classification.
A striking image, this movie poster for the movie Their Eyes Were Watching God, based on a novel by author Zora Neale Hurston, draws you into the premise of Janie Mae Crawford’s life. Played by actress Halle Berry, Janie Crawford is a strikingly beautiful woman of pale skin and silky hair. Despite the paleness of her skin, one can see a twinge of darker African roots in Janie. Her gaze is one of intensity and confidence, a factor that is highlighted within the novel. Janie’s confidence comes from her uniqueness, being the only fair skinned individual in a town of dark and jealous black people.
Janie’s hair symbolizes a direct connection to her biracial roots, as her grandfather was a white man. Her hair is a symbol of whiteness in the novel as it brings out many of her other Caucasian characteristics, making her the envy of her social circles. Her long flowing locks symbolized her independence and lack of conformity to the standards of her fellow black town members. At Janie’s age, it was unheard of for her hair to be down and flowing, rather than pinned up. Seen as a direct moment of defiance and insolence, it showed Janie’s rebellious spirit and impartiality to the social norms.
Jealously, a common theme in the novel is the very thing that Janie has the ability to thrive on. Her confidence is boosted by the lack of support from her peers and she is able to excel by her own standards, despite the disproof of a majority of those she comes in contact with. Her whiteness comes with the heavy price of hatred and failures to develop successful relationships. A lonely person, Janie’s moment of connection comes after meeting Mrs. Turner, a black woman who adores whiteness. Much like the relationship between Birdie and her mother in Caucasia, Mrs. Turner and Janie exceed the odds and build a relationship around their adulation towards whiteness.
Caucasia features the lives of Birdie and Cole, two sisters born to a white mother and black father. Cole embodies the physical features of her father as a chocolate-brown, curly haired girl. In contrast, Birdie embodies the physical characteristics of her mother as a pale-skinned, straight haired girl. The two sisters are separated and forced to live with their physically-similar parents, leaving each to form bonds with their respective parent. Much like Janie, Birdie has an identity crisis when surrounded by her black peers, but is able to find an ally in her white mother.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.
Senna, Danzy. Caucasia. New York: Riverhead, 1998. Print.
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