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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 first husband is Logan Killicks. In this marriage, Janie learns that love is the foundation of a strong marriage. Without mutual love, there can be little motivation to remain loyal in a relationship. Unfortunately for Janie, her marriage to Logan is brokered by her grandmother without any thought to this crucial ingredient for success. Instead, Nanny's first concern is for Janie's safety and financial security.
Janie also learns another lesson from her marriage to Logan: To have a happy and enduring marriage, a couple must share similar worldviews about life. Unfortunately, Janie and Logan harbor mutually exclusive attitudes about gender roles. While Logan expects his wife to live at his beck and call, Janie prefers to leave the hard, physical labor to Logan.
“You don’t need mah help out dere, Logan. Youse in yo’ place and Ah’m in mine.”
“You ain’t got no particular place. It’s wherever Ah need yuh. Git uh move on yuh, and dat quick.”
Janie's next marriage is to Joe "Jody" Starks. Joe is romantic, ambitious, and a shrewd businessman. Janie is immediately attracted to Jody's confidence and tenacity. Unlike Logan, Joe is resourceful and self-possessed. After moving to Eatonville, Jody purchases two hundred acres of land, builds a store and post office, and becomes the town's mayor. Janie is happy, but as time progresses, she begins to realize that her new husband has little regard for her opinions or desires.
Jody is focused on being the most powerful man in Eatonville, and he expects Janie to act the part of a proper society wife. Like Logan, Jody also harbors entrenched notions about a wife's proper role in a marriage. Janie submits to Jody's imperious nature for a time but discovers that she is miserable because of it. In this second marriage, Janie learns the importance of honesty. Until now, Janie has had no practice in articulating her concerns. Her habit has always been to submit to those in authority over her. Prior to marrying Jody, Janie had submitted to Nanny and Logan.
As her marriage with Jody progresses, however, Janie becomes less and less enthused about submitting to her husband's emotional abuse. Yet, she is at a loss. With little experience in articulating her needs, Janie has few emotional resources to bolster her courage. Eventually, however, Janie's anger spills over, and she finds herself mercilessly berating Jody about his diminished virility. Even though Janie and Jody never really reconcile their points of contention, Janie comes to understand the importance of being authentic in a marriage. She also learns that Nanny was wrong about social status and financial security being the key reasons to marry. Janie discovers that she wants more out of a relationship.
Janie's third marriage is to a man named Vergible Woods/ Tea Cake. In this relationship, Janie learns how to trust herself to a man. Because of Tea Cake, Janie learns that a fulfilling relationship based on mutual regard and passion is possible. Later, after shooting Tea Cake in self-defense, Janie muses that the memory of Tea Cake's love will always sustain her. As long as she can feel and think, the "kiss of his memory" will give her peace and abiding hope. Through her third marriage, Janie learns that marital bliss is possible when all the right ingredients for happiness are in place.
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