Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary

Overview

Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Life and Work of Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was born in Eatonville, Florida. Her exact birthdate is unknown, but the most reliable sources put it at either 1891 or 1901. She was the daughter of John Hurston, a Baptist preacher, and Lucy Potts Hurston, a schoolteacher. Zora was the fifth of eight children, and in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, Hurston fondly remembers growing up in an eight-room house with two big chinaberry trees shading the front gate. Eatonville was a self-governing, independent, all-black town. Her father was mayor for three terms and helped codify the town laws. Hurston grew up believing that blacks were equal, if not superior to whites, and was very proud of her heritage. Hurston used her hometown as a basis for the fictional Eatonville in Their Eyes Were Watching God and even borrowed some real names for her characters.

Hurston came to New York in 1925 after receiving an Associate's Degree from Howard University. While at Howard, she was accepted into the prestigious campus literary group and published her first story, John Redding Goes to Sea, in the campus magazine in 1921. In 1925, she submitted Drenched in Light to Opportunity magazine in New York, and it became her first nationally published piece. She then came to New York to continue her literary career. Hurston received a scholarship to Barnard and was its only black student; she graduated in 1928.

While at Barnard, Hurston developed an interest in anthropology. She studied for years and received several fellowships and grants. Her field of interest was folklore, and she used that extensively in her writings, always seeking to fuse folklore and fiction. Their Eyes Were Watching God was written in seven weeks while she was in Haiti working on a book about voodoo.

Hurston was one of the leading writers during the Harlem Renaissance, a period during the 1920s and 1930s when black writers came to the forefront of popular American culture. They were trying to repudiate the stereotypes of blacks in literature by bringing an individual character's consciousness to life. Through her associations with Opportunity, Hurston quickly became a popular guest at fashionable New York literary parties and became very friendly with Langston Hughes and other notable black writers.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Hurston was nonpolitical and believed in art for art's sake. She wanted to express black folklore, which had long been rejected as a product of slavery, and bring it to a wider audience. In addition to her novels, Hurston wrote a play, an opera, several articles, and two anthologies of folklore. Her most famous article was called How It Feels to be Colored Me, published in 1928.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937, was Hurston's third novel. Sadly, the novel received mostly indifferent reviews when first released, including reviews by notable contemporaries. Many of her peers, such as Richard Wright, criticized the novel's lack of social relevance. They felt that the book was not pertinent in what Mary Helen Washington called "a decade dominated by Wright and by the stormy fiction of social realism." Angered by the negative reviews, she began traveling again, and at the request of her publisher, wrote her autobiography in 1942. Her last novel, published in 1948 and called Seraph on the Swanee, was fueled by this anger and was about whites, not blacks. She felt she would be less open to criticism. Around the same time, Hurston was arrested and falsely accused of a morals violation. Although the charges were dismissed, she was demoralized and sick, and retreated to Florida. She spent the last years of her life in poverty, working in various odd jobs.

Zora Neale Hurston died on January 28, 1960. After her death, her books enjoyed a popular revival, partly due to the efforts of Alice Walker, who was greatly influenced by Hurston. Walker also edited and released a collection of Hurston's works. Today, Hurston remains one of the most influential black writers in America.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Overview

Their Eyes Were Watching God opens with a lyrical passage in which Janie Starks returns to Eatonville, Florida, where she had...

(The entire section is 1963 words.)

Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Janie Crawford, the main character of Hurston’s most important novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is the granddaughter of a slave woman, Nanny, who was raped by her owner, and the daughter of a woman who was raped by her schoolteacher. It is against the heritage of this racial and sexual violence that Janie tries to find a personally fulfilling life. The novel begins with Janie returning to Eatonville after the death of her third husband, Tea Cake Woods. Janie sits with her old friend, Pheoby, to tell her story, and the bulk of the novel, although narrated in the third-person voice, is the story Janie tells.

Her story begins when Janie’s grandmother, Nanny, spies her enjoying her first romantic kiss. Realizing that Janie, at the age of sixteen, is almost a woman and that Nanny herself will not be around much longer to take care of her, Nanny quickly arranges Janie’s marriage with a local farmer so Janie can be protected. Janie, however, finds no happiness in being Mrs. Logan Killicks, so when Joe Starks comes by, Janie happily runs off and marries him.

Joe has heard about a black town being formed, Eatonville, to which he wants to move and become a “big voice.” From the first day he is there, Joe starts organizing the town around his own principles, opening the first store, then a post office, and finally becoming the first mayor. As the wealthiest man in town, he also builds himself the grandest home. Janie’s place in all of this, it turns out, is to reign over the town at his side—but without speaking, and to work in the store while he entertains friends out on the porch.

Starks is a deliberately contradictory character. On one hand, the reader can admire him for his organizational ability. On the other hand, he organizes Eatonville into a model of the white towns in which he has lived, except with himself at the head of it. Janie gets lost in the shuffle. Joe relegates Janie to the role of a voiceless servant and deliberately keeps her apart from most of the town—partly out of jealousy, partly out of contempt for the townspeople.

From Janie’s perspective, her marriage to Starks becomes an almost twenty-year-long struggle to assert herself. She finally does, in front of the whole store, when, defending herself against insults about her looks, she hits him with a comment about how old he looks. Taking this wound to his pride as a mortal blow, Joe moves out of their bedroom and sleeps downstairs, and in fact he does die shortly thereafter of kidney failure.

The story of Janie’s third marriage, to Tea Cake Woods, takes up most of the second half of the novel, and it involves many interesting and deliberate reversals from the first half. Whereas Janie entered her marriage to Joe as the younger and poorer of the two, she is about twelve years older than Tea Cake and considerably richer. Nevertheless, they fall in love, get married, and move further south so that Tea Cake can do the work he likes best, picking crops and gambling.

The story of Janie’s marriage to Tea Cake has troubled many critics. After the long process by which Janie eventually was able to fight her way out of one oppressive marriage, she hardly seems to notice that she has fallen into a marriage with another man who is every bit as dominating as Joe Starks. Tea Cake is portrayed as more genuinely respectful and loving of Janie than Joe ever was, and several scenes between Janie and Tea Cake have an evident erotic charge. Yet he, too, begins to get violent with Janie when he feels jealous.

Thus, the hurricane from which Janie and Tea Cake flee almost becomes an expression of Janie’s subconscious rage. Certainly the rabid dog that bites Tea Cake during this storm and which several days later makes the now rabid Tea Cake sound like a reincarnation of Joe Starks seems to be a deliberate plot device to force Janie to make a painful decision to live: She has to shoot Tea Cake to prevent him from killing her.

When Janie returns home to Eatonville, she is in a sense returning in failure; the only personally rewarding love she has found was one that was too volatile to hold. She feels satisfied at the end that she found such a love affair at least briefly, but, as many feminist critics have pointed out, Janie’s story serves as a better illustration of the need for a mutually respectful relationship than it does as an example of such a relationship.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Their Eyes Were Watching God is Zora Neale Hurston’s most lauded work. It is the story of Janie Crawford Killicks Starks Woods, a thrice-married, twice-widowed woman who learns the hard way: through her own experience. Granddaughter of a slave and daughter of a runaway mother, Janie grows up not realizing her color till she sees a picture of herself among white children. Rather than worry about Janie in her adolescence, her grandmother marries her off to Logan Killicks, an old, narrow-minded, and abusive husband. Hoping for more to life than she has, Janie ends that marriage herself by walking off with Joe Starks, a passerby with a dream, who becomes the mayor of Eatonville, Florida, a new all-black town. Janie reigns as queen of the town, yet she is still unhappily under the control of a jealous, controlling husband.

The town is incensed when, after Starks’ death, Janie runs off with Teacake Woods, a young, charming ne’er-do-well. Living with Teacake “on the muck”—picking and planting beans in the Everglades—Janie finds happiness. Teacake truly loves her and cherishes her company, and Janie and Teacake’s home is the center of a community of lively, happy, hardworking folks. Janie ends up a widow again. In trying to save Janie from a rabid dog during a flood, Teacake is bitten. In his delirium, he threatens Janie’s life, and she must shoot him.

Despite the tragedy in her life, Janie comes across as powerful and self-reliant. She moves from being controlled by men to being assertive and independent. She provides a positive image of the black woman who rises above her circumstances and learns to deal with life on her own terms. After Teacake’s death and her trial, she returns to Eatonville with her head high. She is saddened but not defeated; she tells her friend Phoeby that she has “been a delegate to de big ’ssociation of life” and that she has learned that everybody “got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

Although Hurston’s novel received some harsh criticism for being quaint and romantic and was out of print for years, it is now considered an important work for its understanding of the African American folkloric tradition, for its language, and for its female hero, a woman who struggles and successfully finds her own identity.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Their Eyes Were Watching God is narrated in third person, but as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and other critics have noticed, Zora Neale Hurston is careful to give the novel the feel of first person. She accomplishes this by having the main character, Janie, tell the story to her friend Phoeby on the front porch. The novel opens with Janie returning to Eatonville at around the age of forty after having wandered. People up and down the streets are gossiping not only about what she has done on her journey away from home and her relationship with a younger man but also about the audacity of a woman her age wearing long hair and dressing provocatively. As Janie tells her story to Phoeby, she establishes the parameters of the coming-of-age pattern that the novel will follow.

In most novels of this sort, the main character leaves home and discovers love and fortune out in the world. Janie experiences love, but she returns without a man and without any large amount of money. Despite the absence of these things, she is satisfied with what she has gained and tells Phoeby, “Ah done been tuh de horizon and back and now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons.” The trajectory of the novel is circular rather than linear, allowing the author to focus the reader’s attention on self-discovery rather than world discovery. Indeed, Janie discovers herself through the men with whom she becomes involved. When the novel ends she has only herself.

Janie’s first husband is chosen by her grandmother Nanny after she recognizes Janie’s dawning sexuality, symbolized in the novel by a blooming pear tree. Nanny finds Janie kissing Johnny Taylor under the pear tree and immediately arranges a marriage for her with Logan Killicks, a much older man who has forty acres of land and more material possessions than any other man in the community. Nanny explains to Janie that “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world,” and therefore, she must take what she can find. Logan will provide Janie what Nanny calls “protection.” He will provide for her, and he will not beat her. To Nanny, the marriage is ideal. To Janie, it “desecrates the pear tree,” in that she can find no romantic or sexual satisfaction in Logan. Though Logan treats Janie well, he treats her as a possession.

Janie leaves Logan for Joe Starks. Joe (or Jody) is a man of great ambition, planning “to be a big voice.” He coaxes Janie to go with him, and when they find themselves in Eatonville, a “colored town,” without a mayor, he immediately takes charge. With his own money, he expands the town. When the people appoint him as mayor, he settles into office, building a large house and opening a store. Janie becomes “Mrs. Mayor” and runs the store. Jody forces Janie to keep her hair under a cloth, and he will not allow her to gossip or play checkers with any of the townspeople who sit on benches outside the store. Thus, though Jody is initially attractive to Janie, and his ambition allows him to bring about change in the town that none of the citizens could have imagined, Janie is still a possession of her husband. Janie discovers, in the narrator’s words, that “the spirit of the marriage left the bedroom and took to living in the parlor.” When Jody dies, Janie is once again on her own. Symbolizing her freedom, Janie takes the kerchief from her head and proclaims to the town, “Come heah people! Jody is dead. Mah husband is gone from me.”

Janie’s final relationship is the best of the three, but significantly, it does not last nor is it perfect. In fact, Janie is able to survive this relationship only by killing her last love, Tea Cake. Tea Cake is unlike Logan or Jody in that he grants to Janie a measure of freedom. He loves for her hair to hang free, and he teaches her to play checkers and to fish, even to shoot a gun—all activities not normally associated with women in the community of which Hurston writes. However, Tea Cake is the opposite of Logan and Jody also in his lack of traditional responsibility. He gambles away a portion of the money Janie had left from her relationship with Jody. He is, in fact, the prototypical blues singer, playing the guitar and living hand-to-mouth. With Tea Cake, Janie goes to the Everglades, where she works as a fruit picker. It is there that their relationship ends.

Janie, Tea Cake, and various friends wait out the hurricane that threatens the area, ignoring the example of the Seminole Indians, who, having lived in the area for eons, know it is better to flee the storm. In staying, they follow the example of the white people. In the words of the narrator, “The folks let the people do the thinking. If the castles thought themselves secure, the cabins needn’t worry.” Only later when the storm pounds the house in which they are staying, when Lake Okechobee begins to “roll in his bed,” “The time was past for asking the white folks to look for through that door. Six eyes were questioning God.”

In the aftermath of the storm, amid dead bodies, starvation, and mayhem, Tea Cake is bitten by a snarling dog while defending Janie. Weeks later Tea Cake exhibits the symptoms of rabies. When Tea Cake tries to attack Janie, she must use her skill with a gun to protect her life and end his. By teaching her to shoot like a man, Tea Cake has given Janie the ability to live and thereby the ability to free herself from him when she has no other choice. Janie is tried for murder in the white community, but ultimately she is acquitted.

Janie concludes her story by telling Phoeby, “Ah done been tuh de horizon and back.” She concludes that every person must ultimately experience the world and God for herself: “You got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Janie Starks returns to town. One sundown, the Eatonville inhabitants watch and gossip as Janie walks the street toward her house, dressed in overalls, with her long braid hanging down her back. Only her friend Pheoby has the kindness to greet her. Pheoby sits down to hear her friend’s story.

As a little girl, Janie assumed she was white. She lived with her grandmother and played constantly with the children of the Washburns, for whom Nanny worked. Only when a photographer took the children’s picture did Janie realize that she was the black girl in the photo. Nanny was protective of her and worried when she became a teenager. To Nanny, the easiest way to protect Janie from the attentions of useless men was to marry her off young to a good one.

So Janie found herself married early to Logan Killicks, an older man with a house and land. No affection existed between them; Logan seemed to want someone to share the work. Janie could hardly stand to be around him. She complained to Nanny about his big belly, his mule-foot toenails, and the fact that he refused to wash his feet before coming to bed: “Ah’d ruther be shot wid tacks than tuh turn over in de bed and stir up de air whilst he is in dere.”

One day Janie met a stranger on the road, a handsome, charming man named Joe “Jody” Starks. He was on his way to make a place for himself in a new all-black town, Eatonville. After sneaking off to meet Jody in the scrub oaks for several days and getting him to promise to marry her, Janie ran away with him.

Jody did make himself a place in the new town, becoming the mayor and opening the first store. Janie found herself the most envied woman in town, with the most important husband and the biggest house. She spent her days working in the store but soon found that life with Jody was not all wonderful. He was given to jealousy and insisted that she wear a kerchief over her beautiful long hair so that the men who came into the shop would not admire or touch it. To keep her in her place, he frequently criticized her work and refused to let her express her opinions to their acquaintances and friends who visited with them on the porch of the house in front of the store. Over the years this treatment drained the life from Janie: “She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels.”

One night Joe became angry when Janie miscut a plug of tobacco. Although she knew it was better to keep silent, she talked back and he, fearing to lose face in front of his friends, struck her. From then on, Jody slept downstairs. Soon after, he became sick, but he still refused to let Janie come near him again. Even on the night of his death, when she came into his room to speak with him, he could not forgive her.

After Joe’s death, Janie tended the store. Joy came back into her life with Tea Cake Woods, a young man of questionable reputation who found his way to the store one day and entertained her with checker games and his guitar. Before Jody was dead nine months, Janie started spending all of her time with Tea Cake, wearing colorful dresses and showing off her hair. When Janie left town to marry Tea Cake, the town was sure she was being taken for her money. The townsfolk were wrong, though. Despite the difference in their ages—Janie was close to forty by this time—and the difference in their former lives, Janie found that her new husband loved and appreciated her. He took her to the Everglades, where they went “on de muck” picking beans. Here, Janie found herself in the center of a community of lively, happy, hardworking folk. Janie and Tea Cake’s house became the center of activity after a day’s work, and the main activities were making music and gambling, both of which Tea Cake did well. For the first time, Janie found happiness in a marriage.

After two good seasons, disaster came when a hurricane struck, broke the dam, and flooded the area. Most of the residents anticipated the storm and left early enough, but Tea Cake and Janie stayed. By the time they finally tried to make it to high ground, the dam burst and they found themselves swimming to safety. Janie almost died in the rush of water but managed to grab a swimming cow’s tail to be carried along. When a dog riding on the cow’s back tried to bite Janie and force her away, Tea Cake rose up and killed the dog, but not before the dog bit him in the face. Finally, exhausted, Janie and Tea Cake reached safety.

Their relief was short-lived, however, for Tea Cake began to suffer from terrible headaches and became ill-tempered. Janie finally arranged for a doctor to see him, who informed her that the dog that bit him was rabid and that it was not too late for treatment. The doctor warned Janie to be careful around the ill man. When Tea Cake, in the middle of one of his attacks, came at Janie with a gun, she shot him in self-defense. She was brought to trial but found not guilty, and Tea Cake’s death was ruled an accident. After a few weeks with Tea Cake’s friends in the Everglades, she headed back to Eatonville, where her life began.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of Janie Crawford’s quest to fulfill her ideals of life and love during a thirty-year period beginning soon after the turn of the century. The novel is framed by a narrator’s description of a conversation between Janie and Pheoby Watson that takes place on Janie’s back porch in Eatonville, Florida. The point of view soon shifts to Janie’s perspective, and she tells Pheoby the story of her life, beginning with her sheltered childhood in western Florida. The two points of view merge to become one perspective, carrying the narrative through to its violent climax and eventual return to the placid back-porch setting.

The first conflict that Janie recalls concerns her differences with her grandmother, Nanny Crawford. Nanny, a former slave, attempts to keep Janie as sheltered as possible and thus becomes alarmed when she sees Janie kissing a boy over the gatepost. Nanny consequently arranges a marriage between Janie and local farmer and land-owner Logan Killicks, believing that she can thus keep Janie from suffering the fate of other African American women, who become “de mule[s] of de world.” Janie has no desire for that kind of protection, however, and the bony Logan little fits her image of a romantic partner.

Janie soon leaves Logan for the attractive Joe Starks and moves to the newly founded all-black town of Eatonville, Florida. At first Janie thinks that Joe might be the man for whom she is looking. She soon discovers, however, that the basis for their relationship is “foot kissing” rather than “mouth kissing” and that Joe wants her to be set above the rest of the black folk in town. Janie has once again fallen into the trap of settling for security, only this time she has done it of her own volition. When she goes to work in Joe’s store, she is forced to wear a headrag to cover her long, straight hair. As she becomes more alienated from Joe, she withdraws further from her dream of self-fulfillment through romantic love.

Joe dies an embittered man, leaving Janie with the store and the big white house he had built for her. She instantly becomes the object of attention from many suitors, but she spurns them all, preferring her independence to the security of marriage. She finally meets a younger man, Tea Cake (Vergible Woods), and becomes romantically involved. She leaves the security of the store and house for the adventure of traveling to the “muck” of southern Florida to spend the season among migrant farm laborers. Here Janie is finally able to come into contact with both herself and the “folk” from whom she has been separated all of her life. The idyllic life is cut short, however, by a hurricane that floods the region and scatters her and her friends. Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog during their escape, eventually contracting the disease and becoming increasingly violent and paranoid. He bites Janie and shoots at her, and she kills him in self-defense. After she is acquitted by an all-white jury, she returns to the security of her home to tell her story and contemplate the significance of having her dream fulfilled.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary

Summary of the Novel
The novel begins with Janie returning to Eatonville after a long absence; she tells her story to Pheoby....

(The entire section is 263 words.)

Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary and Analysis

Chapter 1: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Janie Crawford (Killicks, Starks, Woods): the protagonist of Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Pheoby Watson: Janie’s best friend who lives in Eatonville.
Pearl Stone, Lulu Moss, and Mrs. Sumpkins: Residents of Eatonville and gossip hounds who are envious of Janie.

Summary
The sun is setting in Eatonville, Florida, and everyone is sitting around in front of their houses along the main road at the end of a long day. After a day at work, “it was the time to hear things and talk.” Since the city is small, everyone notices the woman walking down the road.

The townspeople are shocked to see this woman coming through the city, apparently after a long...

(The entire section is 1315 words.)

Chapter 2: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Nanny: Janie’s grandmother. She brought Janie up after her daughter (Janie’s mother) abandoned her. She forces Janie to marry Logan Killicks so that Janie will be protected.

Johnny Taylor: A young man who kissed Janie.

The Washburn family: A white family who lived in West Florida. Nanny was their servant and Janie lived with them when she was a young girl.

Summary
Janie’s recollections take her to her childhood, when she grew up with her grandmother, who was a live-in servant for a white family. One of her favorite memories is of sitting under a peach tree when she was a young woman, and it is under this tree that she first kisses a boy. Her...

(The entire section is 1140 words.)

Chapter 3: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Janie is left to think about her marriage to Logan Killicks. She wonders about the connection between love and marriage, but convinces herself that they will love each other after they are married. They are married at the Washburn place, and Janie leaves to live at the Killicks’ farm. After two-and-a-half months, Janie returns to Nanny for advice. She lets her know that she is not satisfied with the marriage. Logan isn’t a cruel man, but Janie is bored, and he is too callous to see that she is unhappy with him. Nanny advises Janie to be patient and that it is “better [to] leave things de way dey is,” since Janie is still young. So, Janie returns to Logan, prepared to wait for things to improve. A month...

(The entire section is 611 words.)

Chapter 4: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Logan Killicks: Janie’s first husband, a farmer whom Janie was forced to marry and does not love.

Joe (Jody) Starks: A savvy businessman from Georgia who meets Janie along the road.

Summary
A few months have passed since Nanny’s death, and Janie notices that Logan has been treating her with less respect. Logan begins to resent Janie’s unhappiness, and feels that she thinks she is better than he is. He decides that she has been “spoiled” by her grandmother and that she expects him to continue spoiling her. One day, Logan heads into town with the intention of buying a new mule, implying to Janie that she will have to help him in the garden next year with the...

(The entire section is 1149 words.)

Chapter 5: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Lee Coker, Amos Hicks, and Tony Taylor: Early residents of Eatonville.

Sam Watson: A man who endlessly talks in front of Joe Starks’ store. Sam is Pheoby Watson’s husband.

Sim Jones, Jeff Bruce, and Oscar Scott: Three residents of Eatonville.

Mrs. Bogle: An old woman who lives in Eatonville.

Summary
As the chapter begins, Janie and Joe are on the train to the new town. Janie is impressed with Joe’s demeanor and attitude, which she thinks is “like rich white folks.” Joe buys her presents, but is more excited about arriving and starting to work on the ideas he has spent so long preparing. However, once they arrive in Eatonville, they...

(The entire section is 1701 words.)

Chapter 6: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Matt Bonner: An Eatonville resident who sells a mule that he mistreated to Joe Starks.

Lige Moss and Walter Thomas: Two men who pass time by sitting in front of the store and talking with Sam Watson.

Hambo and Lum: Two men who help out at Starks’ store.

Rev. and Mrs. Pearson: Eatonville’s pastor and his wife.

Charlie Jones and Jim Weston: Two men who compete for Daisy Blunt.

Daisy Blunt: A pretty young woman who lives in Eatonville.

Mrs. Robbins: A woman who always begs at Starks’ store.

Joe Lindsay and Jim Stone: Two customers at Starks’ store.

Summary
Many years will pass in Chapter 6,...

(The entire section is 1785 words.)

Chapter 7: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Steve Mixon: A customer who buys tobacco at the Starks’ store.

Summary
Time passes in the same manner as Chapter 6, and Janie finds herself unsatisfied with the way Joe treats her but is resigned to it. Occasionally she fantasizes about going away again but dismisses the idea because she is 35 years old now. She still feels the need to support him because if he isn’t anybody special “life won’t be nothin’ but uh store and uh house.”

Joe has become an old man, and knows it himself. Joe starts to comment about Janie’s age and appearance, thinking that it will deflect attention about his own age. One day Janie makes a mistake in the store, which allows Joe...

(The entire section is 819 words.)

Chapter 8: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Pheoby Watson: Janie’s best friend and Sam Watson’s wife.

Summary
Immediately after the scene in Chapter 7, Joe moves out of the bedroom in their house. They seldom talk to each other now. In spite of everything, Janie still wants Joe to be on good terms with her but knows by now that her words cannot make him reasonable. She takes his silence philosophically and waits for him to “get over his mad spell.”

Joe’s health continues to fail him. As he takes to bed, he becomes more sullen and refuses to see Janie. It seems that everyone can now visit Joe except her. Janie is terribly hurt by his isolation and tries to get her friends to convince him to change his...

(The entire section is 1033 words.)

Chapter 9: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Ike Green: One of the many men who tries to marry Janie after Joe’s death.

Summary
Chapter 9 begins with Joe’s funeral, which is described as “the finest thing Orange County had ever seen with Negro eyes.” Janie attends the funeral and appears somber and unhappy, but she is still hiding her true emotions. Inside, she is preparing for her new life, which she begins by burning all the head rags she wore and wearing her hair in a braid that hangs below her waist.

She continues to run the store but slowly lets Hezekiah adopt the duties that Joe used to do. She has no interest in the store and contemplates her next move. She thinks about returning to her...

(The entire section is 812 words.)

Chapter 10: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Tea Cake (Vergible) Woods: A fun-loving man who lives a few miles from Eatonville.

Summary
Janie is alone in the store one day because the rest of the town, including Hezekiah, is in Winter Park watching a baseball game. Since no one has come to the store, Janie decides to close up early. Just then, Tea Cake Woods walks into the store, and explains that he thought the game was at a different park. Janie and Tea Cake immediately trade jokes, and Tea Cake teaches her how to play checkers.

Tea Cake pretends to leave, but ends up staying until late in the evening, joking with her and the other customers who have walked in from the finished ball game. As Janie closes up...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Chapter 11: Summary and Analysis

Summary
A week has passed since Janie’s first meeting with Tea Cake, and Janie has made up her mind not to pay any attention to him if she should see him again. Once he comes in, however, she can’t help but join in the fun. They spend the day laughing and playing checkers and end up spending the entire night fishing by the lake. The next day, Hezekiah offers to take her home and warns her against Tea Cake, even though he doesn’t have a reputation for being wicked or violent.

Tea Cake shows up at Janie’s house the following night with some fish. After dinner, Tea Cake starts to sing and puts Janie to sleep. Janie wakes up and finds Tea Cake combing her hair. As he compliments her appearance, Janie...

(The entire section is 989 words.)

Chapter 12: Summary and Analysis

Summary
The town becomes a little disturbed after they see Tea Cake and Janie together at the picnic. After their first appearance together in a place other than the store, it seems like Tea Cake and Janie can be seen together everywhere. Rumors start to fly around town, and all of the townspeople believe that Tea Cake is trying to swindle Janie out of her money. These rumors reach Sam Watson, who discusses these rumors with his wife, Pheoby. Pheoby dismisses them as jealousy, but is concerned about Janie and what she is doing. She makes up her mind to see Janie to find out what is going on.

Janie tells Pheoby that she and Tea Cake plan to get married and leave Eatonville. Pheoby is wary of this and asks...

(The entire section is 636 words.)

Chapter 13: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Mrs. Samuels: A landlady in Jacksonville.

Summary
A few days after the end of Chapter 12, Janie receives a letter from Tea Cake that says that he is in Jacksonville. Janie leaves for Jacksonville, and she and Tea Cake are married that same morning. Tea Cake then takes her to a room that he has rented from a widow. Pheoby insists that Janie hide two hundred dollars in a special pocket of her dress, just to be safe. After a week passes, Janie wants to tell Tea Cake about the money but isn’t sure how to do it.

One morning Tea Cake goes out, saying that he will buy her some fish. When Janie realizes that it is already noon and he is still gone, she decides to get up...

(The entire section is 1277 words.)

Chapter 14: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Ed Dockery, Bootyny, and Sop-de-Bottom: Three men who are playing a card game in the Everglades.

Summary
Janie and Tea Cake get into the Everglades before the bean season starts, quickly find work with a planter, and move into one of the houses built alongside Lake Okechobee. Tea Cake plants beans while Janie settles into their new house. After the beans are planted, Tea Cake and Janie decide to pass the time by hunting. When Janie confesses that she doesn’t know how to shoot, Tea Cake teaches her until she becomes a better shot than he is.

As they pass the time, more people come in from the surrounding areas and the area becomes more lively. The clubs are full of...

(The entire section is 764 words.)

Chapter 15: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Nunkie: A young girl who is interested in Tea Cake.

Summary
A problem arises on the farm when Nunkie, a girl who works in the fields, begins to play around with Tea Cake. Nunkie is clearly interested in him and even though Tea Cake fends her off, Janie starts to become suspicious. It becomes even worse when other people on the farm begin to notice the strange way Nunkie is acting.

One day Janie notices both Tea Cake and Nunkie are missing from the farm. She hurries to a field and sees Tea Cake struggling with Nunkie over some working tickets which she took from him. Janie chases Nunkie off and starts to fight Tea Cake in their quarters. Tea Cake holds Janie in his...

(The entire section is 414 words.)

Chapter 16: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mrs. and Mr. Turner: A café owner and her husband.

Summary
The season ends and most of the workers leave the Everglades. Janie and Tea Cake decide to stay because they want to work in the farm one more year. With less to do in the off-season, Janie spends more time in a café and begins to talk more with Mrs. Turner. Mrs. Turner is a light-skinned woman who wants to befriend Janie because she is also light-skinned. Mrs. Turner hates dark-skinned blacks and accuses them of “holding us back.” Janie feels uncomfortable when she talks to her but doesn’t know how to get rid of her.

Tea Cake hates Mrs. Turner, because she insults him at every opportunity. He also...

(The entire section is 619 words.)

Chapter 17: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Stew Beef: A worker and friend of Tea Cake.

Coodemay and Sterrett: Two would-be patrons of Mrs. Turner’s café.

Summary
The new season starts, and Tea Cake and Janie are reunited with their old friends. Tea Cake is still harassed by Mrs. Turner and her desire to introduce Janie to her brother. When Mrs. Turner brings her brother over to visit Janie, Tea Cake decides to slap Janie “to show he was boss.” As a result, Mrs. Turner’s brother leaves them alone, and the farmers talk enviously about Tea Cake and Janie and their marriage.

As Sop-de-Bottom talks with Tea Cake, they decide that Mrs. Turner and her family are nothing but trouble and devise a...

(The entire section is 874 words.)

Chapter 18: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Motor Boat: A fellow worker and friend of Tea Cake.

Summary
Janie notices that the Seminoles that live around the area are starting to leave the Everglades. When she asks one of them, she is told that a hurricane is coming and they are moving to higher ground. The workers dismiss the warning, even though they notice animals leaving as well. When the sky gets dark a few days later, some workers get frightened and move east. One of the Bahaman workers asks Tea Cake and Janie if they would like to go with him, but they decide to stay, like most of the workers.

A few friends gather at the Woods’ house for a party. Tea Cake and Motor Boat are caught up in a dice game and...

(The entire section is 944 words.)

Chapter 19: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mr. Prescott: A district attorney in the Everglades.

Dr. Simmons: A doctor who works in the Everglades.

Summary
Two days later, Tea Cake decides to go out to look for work, despite Janie’s warnings that every fit male is now being pressed into service to bury the dead. Two white men see Tea Cake and force him to work with other men. In the evening, Tea Cake gets worried about Janie and escapes. He rushes home to find Janie scared and crying, and they decide to return to the Everglades.

They return home, and Tea Cake reunites with most of his old friends. He quickly finds work, since people are needed to clear up and repair the dam. Three weeks later, he...

(The entire section is 1304 words.)

Chapter 20: Summary and Analysis

Summary
The other workers of the Everglades want to forget their cruelty to Janie, and they want Janie to forgive them. They blame Mrs. Turner’s brother for starting the rumors and drive him from the Everglades. They also beg Janie to stay in the Everglades, but without Tea Cake, there is nothing left for Janie to see here. She gives away everything to Tea Cake’s friends and returns home to Eatonville.

The setting abruptly changes to Janie, back in her house, talking to Pheoby. Janie’s story is finished. Pheoby is inspired by Janie’s story and promises to defend her against anybody else in the town who might say something negative about her. Pheoby also says that after hearing Janie, “Ah ain’t...

(The entire section is 500 words.)