How does each of Janie's relationships shape her as a person? How do they change her?
Her grandmother, worried about her chastity, pushes Janie into marrying Logan Killicks, despite Janie's protestations about being of marriageable age. Killicks is unattractive and too old for Janie: "He look like some ole skullhead in de grave yard" (13). The thought of Logan "[desecrates] the pear tree," or spoils the pleasure of being a young woman in bloom, learning about her sexuality.
Marriage to Logan introduced Janie to the drudgery of being a wife, and teaches her that to be "respectable" she must be married. Her grandmother wishes to save her from what she deems to be the "unrespectable" fate of her mother, which is to "feel around with first one man and then another" (13). Janie learns that marriage does not always breed love and, in Logan's treatment of her, sees how men can take women for granted. Logan is never cruel, but he expects obedience as well as Janie's commitment to what matters to him—the cultivation of his farm.
Joe Starks is "cityfied" [sic] and has political ambitions. Though he charms Janie away from Logan's farm, it becomes clear that he is less interested in his wife as an individual than he is in his wife as a symbol of his elevated status as mayor. While on his death bed, Janie reminds him that, after twenty years, he no longer bears resemblance to the man she "[ran] off down de road wid," but is a man who "squeezed and crowded out [the room in her mind to] make room for [himself]" (82). She realizes with Joe that, sometimes, the person you love cannot accept you as you are. After Joe dies, she stops playing the dutiful wife—a decision that is indicated by her "[tearing] the kerchief from her head and [letting] down her plentiful hair" (83).
Tea Cake is much younger, a fact which sets the town atwitter with gossip. Janie is indifferent because Tea Cake gets her back in touch with her girl self who dreamed of the pear tree. He reconnects her with her sexuality and gives her the love she did not have with her husbands. Though Tea Cake dies from rabies, her loss of the man has not diminished the power of her experience, which has made her more engaged with life and more engaged with herself.
Each of Janie's three relationships helps her to grow into the self-actualized woman whom we meet as she walks back into the town of Eatonville in Chapter 1 and endures the questions and gossip thrown at her by the porchtalkers.
From Logan, Janie learns that love and marriage cannot just be arranged and suddenly happen as her grandmother believes and that, alternately, one must work and devote a great deal of attention to make a happy marriage.
With Joe, Janie has her first opportunity to apply the lessons she has learned from Logan. Unfortunately, Joe is far more interested in his own "big voice" to ever take the time to listen to Janie's wishes and aspirations. From this, Janie learns that in order to build a happy marriage, both individuals must stand on equal footing and be willing to sacrifice for the other.
It is with Tea Cake that Janie finally realizes her "love dream." In this relationship, Janie and Tea Cake treat each other as equals, they listen to one another and treat one another as equal partners. It is through this relationship that Janie becomes self-actualized and--although this last relationship ends tragically--is able to fully live her own life.
Janie’s relationships are the best and easiest ways to understand her strength as a person, but also as a black woman. During the time frame of the book, the woman was not considered an equal to her husband, and yet Janie did not follow that line. Even when married, she pushed her husband to be the mayor, own the general story, and be a success. The story of her past shows that his successes were due in large way to Janie. Even after his death, Janie followed her own agenda when she met up with Tea Cake. She followed him and his adventures rather than pushing him for success. However her strength pulls through when she has to shot Tea Cake to save herself. When returning to her home after Tea Cake’s death, she holds her head up high and knows that she is in charge of her own destiny, and not many people male or female, white or black could say the same.