[Janie] was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid.

This passage from Chapter 2 marks the beginning of Janie’s spiritual and sexual awakening. She is a young girl under the care of her grandmother, and this incident propels her upon her quest to reach her horizon. The embrace between the bee and the flowers imprints itself upon Janie as an idealized vision of love—a moment of mutual, reciprocal fulfillment. The flowers arch to meet the arriving bee, and the consequent union of the two provides each partner something desired. Janie searches for such a give-and-take love over the course of the entire novel.

The passage also relates to an even deeper desire, which is the ultimate goal of the love that Janie seeks: a sense of enlightenment, of oneness with the world around her. The language of this passage is evocative of the erotic, naturalistic romanticism of Walt Whitman. Like Whitman’s poetry, Hurston’s prose here finds divinity and spirituality in the fertile lushness of the natural world (“the ecstatic shiver of the tree . . . frothing with delight”). Janie sees nature as she wants it to be: a world full of beauty and fulfillment. She chases after this ideal because she wants to experience a harmonization with the beautiful and wild forces that she witnesses under the pear tree. Later events—particularly the hurricane of Chapter 18—introduce a very different vision of nature, but the pear tree continues to serve as her vision of ideal love, of a perfect union with another person.