Friday, February 20, 2009

Language Appreciation and Interpretation: Death

Zora Neale Hurston personifies death when Janie is thinking about Joe’s impending end:

“Death, that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West. That great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof. What need has Death for a cover, and what winds can blow against him? He stands in his high house that overlooks the world. Stands watchful and motionless all day with his sword drawn back…” (84).

In this description, Death is a being who is always watching humans. His high house which overlooks the world suggests that people cannot avoid death because he can see everybody. I thought that this “Death” seems like one of the stories that Hurston might have heard while she was researching folklore. Many ancient civilizations have stories that explain different natural phenomenon. The Greeks, for example, had many mythological figures. To them, Hades was the god of the underworld. Death as described by Hurston seems like an alternative Hades who developed in a different culture.

I found the “huge square toes who lived way in the West” part of Death’s description to be interesting. This type of detail seems to indicate that Death is an entity, and not just an unknown danger. This might also make dying less terrifying for people because they know what to expect. Even though people know what Death looks like, Death will probably not be a friend. However, by knowing Death’s appearance, down to the minute details like his toes, they will not be facing complete confusion.

Hurston’s description of Death’s house was also significant. By placing Death in a house that has no protection from the elements (the wind), Hurston emphasizes the inevitability of death. If even nature cannot affect death, then human beings will not be able to change death. Although this might seem like a depressing view of humanity, I think that Hurston is merely trying to show that people should fully live their lives. Some people are so worried about death that it becomes a fetter and they can only think about how to avoid death. Instead, since death is inevitable, people should try to do what they want to do.

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