Hurston uses many symbols and metaphors in Their Eyes Were Watching God to develop Janie's story. Symbols stand for, represent, or suggest another thing. A metaphor, however, is a figure of speech containing an implied comparison, in which a word or phrase ordinarily and primarily used for one thing is applied to another.
One of the prevalent metaphors in the novel is the image of the horizon. As Janie climbs the pear tree to see what exists around her, she sees the horizon. The horizon also plays a role at sundown, a time when the porch sitters sit outside at the end of a working day to watch the sun set. Janie wants to make a trip to the horizon, and her journey becomes a principal metaphor in the story. At sunrise, Janie travels down the road to the train station to meet and marry Tea Cake, hoping that this experience will take her to the horizon. The horizon is a symbol of Janie's lifelong search for happiness. At the end of the story, Pheoby is anxious to seek her own horizon with her husband, as a result of hearing Janie's story.
Another metaphor in the novel can be found in the working men and women and the comparison to the mule. The men sitting on the porches have been working all day and have been treated like mules throughout the working day. Only at the end of the day as they enjoy their leisure time on the porch do they become human beings. In Hurston's interlude of the mule, the animal is given respite near the end of his life, just as the hard-working men and women "mules" get respite at the end of their working day.
A second image of a mule exists in the novel. Matt Bonner's mule also represents mistreatment and betrayal. Perhaps Janie feels sympathy for the poor animal because she, too, suffers the effects of abuse, just as the mule does. While the mistreatment that Janie endures is primarily emotional, the abuse that the mule experiences is mostly physical. Regardless of the type of mistreatment each faces, the mule exists as a symbol of the abuse that Janie encounters in her marriage to Joe.
One of the most powerful metaphors in the novel is the blossoming pear tree. Janie is enchanted by the beautiful tree in Nanny's backyard. As she climbs the tree and sits in its branches, Janie realizes the meaning of true love when she sees the marriage of the bees to the blossoms in the pear tree. The blossoming pear tree symbolizes Janie's emerging womanhood. Janie's image of love, as she saw it in the pear tree, causes her to embark on her lifelong search for love.