Examine the different kind of woman Janie is with Tea Cake in Their Eyes Were Watching God.  How does this affect what kind of person Janie might be?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Janie is with Tea Cake, she is able to define herself as the person she wants to be.

Janie's understanding of love and the person she wants to be are linked to one another.  As a young person, Janie sees an image of nature that embodies the best aspects of love:

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!

This image defines Janie's view. Love is freedom. From an early age, Janie uses this to define her life. Hurston's use of language such as "creaming in every blossom," "love embrace," and "ecstatic shiver" merge a zealous joy of living into love and marriage. 

After her first two marriages, Janie rejects adhering to another person's standard. She no longer has to worry about social appearances or conforming to what another individual says. She has financial independence and experience. She has freedom. In her relationship with Tea Cake, she finds a vibrance absent in her previous relationships and uses this to define the woman she wants to be.

The relationship with Tea Cake offers Janie a vision of emotional partnership. When she notes how "Somebody wanted her to play" and that his "good points" gave her "thrills," it reminds her of the natural image of "the love embrace" Janie saw as a child. Hurston writes that with Tea Cake, Janie's "soul crawled out from its hiding place." There is a spiritual connection that Janie finds with Tea Cake that makes love worth living for, something that had been absent in her first two marriages: "Ah wuz fum-blin' round and God opened the door."  In a relationship where there was "wrestling" in both good and bad, Janie finds life.  She discovers the element of her soul, a "glance from God," and the opportunity to define herself through love.

This self-definition is how Janie's time with Tea Cake impacts the person Janie wants to be. Affection is no longer obligatory. Marriage is no longer an institution. Upon reflecting on the arc of her life, Janie is able to speak about what it means to love. She argues that love is fluid and dynamic, representative of life itself, when she says, "Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore." Janie is able to reclaim this part of her identity when she is with Tea Cake.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

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