This post contributes to the Banned Books Blog Party hosted by hannah at her blog Things Matter. Click here for more about her blog and the banned books blog party.
Pear trees in bloom should be banned. They are just too sexy, too alluring. They are, in fact, positively obscene.
This is the message I took away from learning recently that Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is on the list for Banned and Challenged Books. You may be aware that September 21-27 is Banned Books Week. Sponsored by the American Library Association, Banned Books Week
“is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek
One of the Banned and Challenged Books listed by the ALA is their Their Eyes Were Watching God, a gorgeous novel written in 1937 by African-American anthropologist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston. Their Eyes chronicles the story of a girl named Janie Crawford who, throughout the course of the novel, matures from a restless girl of 16 into a mature woman in her early forties. Hurston focuses in particular on Janie’s search to find love, community, and a voice of her own.
This quest is made difficult, however, by the fact that, as a poor, black, southern girl in the early years of the 20th century, with no family except her grandmother, Janie is at the bottom of the totem pole. As she learns from her grandmother, “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see” (14). Poor black women are used by others—including black men—to gratify their own desires. Expecting, as Janie does, to forge her own destiny and find love on her own terms, is unrealistic and even dangerous.
That is why Janie’s grandmother marries her off at age 16 to an older man whom Janie finds repulsive. Granny knows through experience what it is like to be treated as a “spit cup” by men and she does not want Janie to go through the same pain. Janie’s marriage with Logan Killicks is not a successful one. It serves as the springboard to her restless search for a better marriage, a better life, which she does find eventually.
So why is Their Eyes Were Watching God on list of banned and challenged books? According to the ALA, in 1997 “a parent objected to the novel’s language and sexual explicitness.”
Sexual explicitness? I have read this book many times (it is one of my favorites) and I cannot remember any sexually explicit scene. Hurston’s language is poetic, full of metaphors and images, rather than any starkly realistic descriptions of sexuality.
I can only surmise, but I am guessing what bothered Concerned Parent is the central symbol of the novel: the pear tree in bloom. In the beginning of the story, Janie is a sixteen year old girl who is first beginning to feel the stirrings of her sexuality. One lovely spring day, she is lying under a pear tree when she has a revelation:
“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! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid. . . .
Oh to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her?” (11)
Click here for source of photo.
This vision of the pear tree helps her to really “get” what the “birds and the bees” are all about. This glorious vision of “marriage” in nature fuels her quest for the rest of the novel. She, too, wants to find a “bee for her blossom.” She wants the natural ecstasy she observed in nature.
Click here for photo source.
Apparently, for Concerned Parent, the pear tree is too explicit; it is like a saucy siren minx who lures on innocent youth to their demise. Good point, Concerned Parent. But why stop at banning Their Eyes Were Watching God? We should ban all pear trees everywhere. Pear trees have undoubtedly been the cause of many a ruined life.
But let’s not stop at just pear trees. Let’s ban all trees. Their spring-time hanky-panky sets a bad example for the Youth of America. For that matter, let’s get rid of spring time altogether. You know how adolescents get when they feel those soft May breezes stroking them into a frenzy of desire. But, as long as we’re at it, let’s ban nature. All those plants and animals reproducing constantly. It’s obscene and I won’t put up with it any longer—nor should you. Let’s act now to end nature and its obscene allure.
Please join me in signing the attached Petition to Abolish Nature in All Its Forms So That Our Children Will No Longer Be Sullied.
Click here for source of photo
This post is a response to Aarti’s #Diversiverse challenge.
For more information about her #Diversiverse challenge, click here.