Comparing and Contrasting the Use of Symbols to Embrace Thematic Ideals of Female Oppression in The Scarlet Letter and Their Eyes Were Watching God
English novelist, Virginia Woolf once said “The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself. Within Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter and Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Woolf’s statement is truly evident. As a whole, both novels have a central focus of the oppression of women in society.
Both novels contain the central theme of female oppression manifested throughout the whole novel. Throughout Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God and Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter, both authors employ the use of symbols to embrace the thematic ideal of female oppression. In the two novels, hair, and the confinement of that hair effectively acts as symbols of female oppression. At the beginning of the novel as Hester descends down the path of judgmental woman, the author makes an observation about the “dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam. (Hawthorne 40).
” Not only a sign of oppression but also as a sign of her beauty, Hester’s beauty, which her hair is a part of, causes all the women and the towns people to be jealous and highly envious of her. As a result of the strictness of the puritan society, Hester is required to confine her beauty in braids and under a cap. Although the reader knows the beauty that lies with her hair, Hester cannot fully display her beauty in the manner she wishes. The braids placed in her hair, oppress important parts of her persona. In the dark and evil forest, Hester ” took off the formal cap that confined her hair […
] dark and rich” (Hawthorne 130) and as Hester enjoys this moment, she summons pearl but pearl does not recognize her mother and Hester is forced to “gather up the heavy tresses of her hair, and confine them beneath her cap” (Hawthorne 135). Hester attempts to escape the oppression put upon her by removing her cap and braids and letting down her hair, but because the oppression she suffers is so great, Hester is forced to gather up her hair and place it back under the cap. This illuminates the great effect of oppression the sin and society have on Hester.
Her attempt to escape the oppression is a failed one, and she must continue to face the subjugation of the sin. Similarly, in Their Eyes Were Watching God, the confined hair of the protagonist, Janie, acts as a symbol of female oppression in the novel. Just as Hester confines the beauty that is her hair, Janie must do the same, although some people “wonder at her long black hair” (Hurston 26), She must keep her hair “in one thick braid swinging well below her waist” (Hurston 89). In accord with Hester, Janie’s hair is up in braids at all times, even after the death of her oppressive, abusive husband Jody Starks.
Janie must keep her hair up as to hide her beauty because of her husband’s own insecurity. She is oppressed as a female by Jody, and is not able to show her full femininity. At Jody Starks’ death bed, “she tore off the kerchief from her head and let down her plentiful hair”, only to “comb her hair and tie it back up again” (Hurston 87). At the time of Jody’s death, Janie lets down her hair, as to be free from the oppression she suffered from Jody. Although she has a moment of brief freedom, the oppressed female that she has come to be, shines out again when she carefully ties her hair back in to the rags.