Their Eyes Were Watching God
Lesson 3 – Artistic Representations of Janie’s “Great Tree”
• Review the use of symbols in Their Eyes Were Watching God
• Focus on “the great tree” that appears in Chapter 2 and discuss how the chapter builds on the symbol of the tree in Janie’s life
• Discuss how Janie’s journey can be viewed as the great tree, with each branch representing a possibility she encountered. Some branches flowered and some did not. The possibility can be a relationship, a way of becoming, a place to live, or anything that students perceive of as an opening that Janie came upon.
• Students will create an artistic representation of the great tree and each branch showing “the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone.”
• Pens, pencils, paper for noting and paper for drawing
• Copies of Their Eyes Were Watching God
Concepts in this lesson:
What is a symbol?
An object or physical thing that suggests, expresses, or represents a reality beyond itself. Examples include: a sunrise literally showing the beginning of a new day and symbolically standing for a new beginning; a rose is literally a flower and symbolically it stands for beauty and purity.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, there are several important symbols that appear in the novel, one of which is the pear tree, which is first introduced in Chapter 2.
The narrator compares Janie’s life to “a great tree in leaf.” Students will examine how a character’s life may be compared to a tree, and how symbols can accurately represent literal things.
How is the symbol and each student’s translation of its importance best represented in a visual depiction?
• What kinds of details does the illustration draw on?
• Does the illustration rely on specific quotations that are represented visually?
• What kind of interpretation does the illustration depict?
How do students engage with the concepts in this lesson?
Students use their understanding of symbolism to engage with passages from the novel that focus on the symbol of the great tree that the narrator compares to Janie’s life.
Students analyze the importance and meaning of the symbol by creating a visual representation of how Janie’s life unfolds according to the language of the symbol.
1. Begin the lesson by having a class discussion about the role of symbols in Their Eyes Were Watching God.
a. Why does Hurston use symbols?
b. Which symbols are most powerful or effective to you?
2. Once students are confident they understand the
definition of symbolism and how symbols work in the novel, have them read (or read aloud to them), the important quotations about the tree from Chapter 2 of the novel.
• Opening paragraph of chapter: “Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.”
• Paragraph beginning with “It was a spring afternoon in West Florida. Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back yard…” and continuing through two additional paragraphs.
3. Remind students that the image of the tree appears throughout the early part of the novel. Ask students what they think the tree represents to Janie and what it means to her.
4. Brainstorming: Using the idea put forth in the initial quote about the tree (“Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone”), guide students to imagine how Janie’s life branches out, some branches (possibilities, dreams, aspirations, relationships) blossoming and some not.
5. Have students create a drawing or other type of artistic representation of the “great tree” of Janie’s life, showing which branches flowered and which did not. Have them label branches and, if possible, include quotations from the novel in their drawing to add language to the visual elements.
Since each student’s visual representation involves so much individual choice, there will not be a single “right” response to the assignment. However, giving students a structure will help them create better drawings.
Here are suggestions for providing structure:
• students should first work out what they see as the branches of Janie’s life. Their categories might include:
o her relationships with other characters; you may encourage students to think in terms of her relationships with male characters and her relationships with female characters
o her connections to the places where she lives
o her vision of herself as a black woman
o her ability to support herself financially
• the categories they choose should reflect their understanding of how many paths and ways of identifying herself that Janie undertook
• the drawing/illustration should respond in detail to the language of any quotations the student draws on (focusing on specific words or phrases of significance) as well as on the student’s interpretation of the quotation
• the drawing/illustration should reflect the student’s understanding of the broader context of each “branch” of Janie’s life