She 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!
Janie has just experienced sexual attraction for the first time, in the person of Johnny Taylor, a young man who gives Janie her first kiss. Here, the pear tree and the bees symbolize the energy and harmony of nature. The erotic language makes it clear that the pear tree also represents sexuality. Later in the passage, Janie thinks, “Oh to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom!” Janie’s wish shows that the pear tree also symbolizes Janie herself.
Janie pulled back a long time because he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance. Still she hung back. The memory of Nanny was still powerful and strong.
While trapped in an unhappy marriage to Logan Killicks, Janie meets Joe Starks, a sophisticated, ambitious man with big dreams. Here, the text explicitly states that the horizon symbolizes change and chance. However, the passage also makes an explicit comparison with another symbol—the blossoming tree. The pear tree acquires an additional symbolic meaning, permanence, which depends on remaining rooted in order to reproduce and flourish. The horizon and the pear tree represent conflicting elements of Janie’s nature.
Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon—for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you—and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter’s neck tight enough to choke her. She hated the old woman who had twisted her so in the name of love.
After the death of her second husband, Joe Starks, Janie tries to decide what to do next. She considers returning to the place where her grandmother, Nanny, raised her but rejects that idea after remembering the restrictions of her early years. In this passage, the horizon represents possibilities, dreams, and opportunities. Nanny had tried to restrict these elements of Janie’s nature, but her marriage to Joe has widened Janie’s perspective.
She couldn’t make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom—a pear tree blossom in the spring.
After two unsatisfactory marriages, Janie meets Tea Cake, a younger man who makes her laugh. It is a case of love at first sight. As Tea Cake is so much younger than her and might be after her money, Janie tries to talk herself out of being attracted to him. Here, the image of the bee attracted to a pear tree symbolizes the sexuality, passion, and natural energy between a man and a woman.
She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.
By the end of the novel, the symbol of the horizon has become quite complex in its meaning. The horizon still stands for dreams, opportunities, and adventures, but now the horizon also stands for wholeness and self-acceptance. Janie’s life experiences are a source for new confidence and security. Janie now feels complete within herself.
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