In a sense, all three husbands help Janie become a strong and independent character but in very different ways. Her third and final husband was the most intentionally helpful of the three.
Logan Killicks, Janie's first husband, was chosen for her by Nanny Crawford. He is a hardworking and prosperous farmer, and offers money and security. Although the marriage is not emotionally satisfying to Janie, it is one that many women would have envied, providing both economic and physical safety. In this marriage, though, Janie realizes that she wants more from her life than merely security and labor, and runs off with Joe Starks.
Joe Starks, Janie's second husband, represents the American Dream. Independent, romantic, ambitious, and entrepreneurial, Starks resembles wealthy white businesspeople in his quest for wealth and power. In a sense, he represents a black quest towards assimilation with white, patriarchal, capitalist society, something Janie eventually finds restrictive and unsatisfying. His death provides Janie with financial independence.
Vergible “Tea Cake” Woods is the best of Janie's three husbands in terms of her personal development. He represents the possibility of a black life that is not one of slavery (either to whites or economic necessity) nor one of assimilation, but of an authentic and independent life. In this marriage, Jamie blossoms, developing new skills and talents, and becoming integrated with a black community. He enables her to develop spiritually as well as materially and create an authentic life. Although he does have a need to dominate Janie, the marriage is one of genuine love and mutual respect, in which Janie can flourish.