Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary

Their Eyes Were Watching God summary

Janie Crawford tells her friend Pheoby the story of her life. It begins when she's a child, continues through all three of her marriages, and ends with her finding peace after the death of her third husband, Tea Cake.

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God begins when Janie returns to Eatonville after the death of her third husband and tells her story to Pheoby.

  • After an unhappy marriage to Logan Killicks, Janie married Joe Starks and relocated to Eatonville.

  • Starks became mayor, but he relegated Janie to a subservient role without a voice.

  • After the death of Joe Starks, Janie married Tea Cake, a man who was younger and less wealthy than she was. Their relationship was loving but violent.

  • Tea Cake was bitten by a rabid dog, and Janie killed him in self-defense.


When the novel opens, the main character Janie Crawford returns from burying her husband. Her friend Pheoby visits her shortly after this and solicits Janie's entire life story. Hurston uses this as a frame narrative to tell the real story, which follows Janie from her childhood, through her three marriages, and up to the burial of her one great love, Tea Cake. This frame narrative begins when Janie's a little girl and learns that she's different from the white children that she's played with for her whole life. At six years old, Janie realizes that she's African American. Years later, she kisses a boy over a wooden fence, and this event leads to Janie's sexual awakening. She sits under a big, flowering pear tree, which becomes a symbol of her sexuality.

Her grandmother, Nanny, worried about Janie's sexuality, marries her off to a man named Logan Killicks, whom Janie doesn't love. He treats her badly, working her like a dog on their farm, and she doesn't regret leaving him for Joe Starks, a wealthy man who treats her like a queen—at least at first. Together, the new couple travel to Eatonville, where Joe Starks throws around his money and builds a general store that entices more people to move to the town. For his trouble, Jody, as Joe's called, is elected Mayor. His first order of business is to order new streetlamps for the town.

Janie feels ambivalent about some of the changes in her life. She spends most of her time tending the store Jody built. This makes life boring, and her only real distractions are the townsfolk, who have a hard time relating to her because she's the Mayor's wife. In fact, many of them harbor bad and, in some cases, sexual thoughts about her. Many of these men are her husband's friends. She listens to them talking on the porch, but isn't allowed to join in, and must stand at a remove as an old mule belonging to Matt Bonner dies, as her husband solidifies his position as Mayor, and as she's gradually silenced by his bullying. When he starts beating her, she realizes that she's fallen out of love with him. When she makes a cutting remark about his manhood, he falls ill and dies.

Not long after Jody's funeral, men start courting Janie, realizing that she's rich. However, Janie is enjoying her freedom and doesn't intend to marry again. This all changes when Tea Cake appears one day. He's a brash, romantic, flirtatious young man who manages to win Janie over, in spite of his bad drinking and gambling habits. When people find out about their relationship, they're mad and look down on Janie with scorn, so Janie decides to sell the store and leave Eatonville so that she and Tea Cake can get married.

Janie and Tea cake settle in Jacksonville, Florida. Their life there isn't perfect, and Tea Cake has a habit of disappearing at night, gambling away their money, and placating Janie by playing her songs on his guitar. Then one night Tea Cake steals the $200 Janie brought as emergency money and throws a giant party without inviting her. When he tries to win the money back by gambling, one disgruntled loser stabs him. Still, he makes the money back and then some: $312. Following this incident, Janie and Tea Cake move down to the Everglades, where they live in a little hut and become bean farmers. They also do a bit of hunting and sell animal skins in Palm Beach.

It isn't long before Tea Cake's eyes start to wander. Janie grows jealous of a "chunky" girl named Nunkie, who works with Tea Cake and is constantly teasing him. Janie lashes out at Nunkie, and this leads to a fight with Tea Cake; but the two make up fairly easily. Later, a woman named Mrs. Turner tries befriending Janie, but she turns out to be a racist who thinks that light-skinned black people are better than their dark-skinned counterparts. This leads to another fight, in which Mrs. Turner's hand is injured and Tea Cake has to restrain a belligerent man. This, despite the fact that Tea Cake has started beating Janie on a semi-regular basis.

One day, Janie sees a band of Seminoles passing by, as if running away from something. It turns out that there's a storm coming, but the workers don't realize it until the very last minute, and Tea Cake is too stubborn to leave in a timely manner. Janie and Tea Cake get caught in the great 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, a real hurricane that was one of the deadliest on record. They're unable to escape the flood and have to struggle to stay afloat. In this process, they run into a rabid dog that bites Tea Cake in the face. When the hurricane dies down, Tea Cake helps to bury the dead, and things appear to return to normal. Then Tea Cake starts having symptoms. When he tries to shoot her, Janie is forced to put him down.

Janie stands trial in front of an all-white jury for the murder of Tea Cake. His death is determined to be accidental and understandable, given the rabies, and Janie's free to go. She buries Tea Cake in Palm Beach, then returns home to Eatonville. This ends the frame narrative and brings us back to Pheoby, who has been listening to Janie's story this whole time. In the end, Janie doesn't regret what happened and says that the only things people have to do are go to God and figure out how to live for themselves. She's done the latter, and this makes her happy.

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

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 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....

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Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary and Analysis

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 1: Summary and Analysis

The novel opens on the main character, Janie Crawford, returning to Eatonville, Florida after she buries her husband Tea Cake. Her neighbors, unaware of what happened, judge her harshly then, assuming that Tea Cake ran out on her. Eventually, Janie's friend Pheoby comes to visit and gets the real story. They talk briefly about how people are cruel and judgmental, and then Janie tells Pheoby that Tea Cake is gone, but doesn't immediately say why. This sets up the frame narrative that the author uses to tell the real story: that of Janie's life. This will begin in Chapter 2.


Zora Neale Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in a thick Southern African American dialect that first time readers often have trouble understanding. Hurston, a trained anthropologist, studied this dialect in Florida and reproduced it accurately on the page through the use of various colloquialisms, phonetic spelling, and frequent dialogue. Her choice of diction helps characterize the people in the novel, grounding them in the place, time, and culture that produced the dialect.


Death. One of the first images in the book is that of a dead body, its "eyes flung wide open in judgment" (later, we'll learn that this is Tea Cake's body and that Janie was forced to kill him after he began showing symptoms of rabies). This prepares the reader for a narrative that will include a series of increasingly tragic deaths, including two of Janie's husbands.

Friendship. Immediately upon her arrival in Eatonville, it becomes clear that Janie doesn't have many friends in town. Most of the residents criticize her openly, spreading malicious gossip and assuming that her husband has left her when in fact he's dead. The only friend Janie can be said to have here is Pheoby, a more understanding busybody who nevertheless wants to get the story about Tea Cake. That Janie's willing to give it indicates that she and Pheoby are, ultimately, very close.

Gossip. Hand in hand with the theme of friendship is the theme of gossip, which is woven throughout the entire novel and is usually associated with Janie. She's a beautiful, independent, wealthy woman, and all these things together lead to her being criticized by the citizens of Eatonville. Everybody, including her friend Pheoby, participates in the gossip mill, though to varying degrees.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 2: Summary and Analysis

Chapter 2 marks the beginning of the novel's main narrative. Janie is a child when it begins, and she hasn't yet learned about race or sex or love. She doesn't realize that she's black until she sees a picture of herself one day and realizes that her skin isn't the same color as that of the other girls in the neighborhood. The other African American children at her school tease her for hanging out with white children; but one boy, Johnny Taylor, likes her enough to kiss her over a gatepost. Her grandmother, Nanny, realizes that Janie has blossomed and that the days she spends under a pear tree in the backyard are symbolic of her burgeoning sexuality.

Nanny decides Janie will marry Logan Killicks, an old farmer to whom Janie isn't even remotely sexually attracted. Janie doesn't want to marry Logan, but Nanny insists, telling her that African American women don't have very many options and that this marriage is the best way Nanny can think of to keep Janie safe. She then tells Janie about her time as a slave and how she had a child with her slave owner, Marse (Master) Roberts. Her owner's wife finds out and whips her. Nanny runs away to safety. She receives many offers of marriage after this, but refuses them all, worried that these men will mistreat her. Despite her best efforts, Nanny can't protect her child, and when the girl is seventeen she's raped by a schoolteacher. Janie is the child of this rape.


Hurston makes frequent use of alliteration, including in Nanny's words: "You wants to make me suck de same sorrow yo' mama did, eh?"


Pear Tree. Janie's blossoming pear tree, along with the bees that pollinate its flowers, is the most important symbol in the novel. It represents Janie's blossoming sexuality, which, in these early chapters of the novel, brings her great joy. Later, these pear blossoms will begin to wilt, symbolizing the loss of desire that Janie experiences in her marriages.


Marriage. This novel is set in the period between the late 1800s and the early 1920s, when black women in particular and women in general had few options for marriage. In the South, it wasn't uncommon for marriages to be arranged without the woman's strict consent. Nanny's determination to marry Janie off underscores the fact that marriage provides financial (if not physical) security. Nanny, a former slave, has no illusions about marriage as a holy or romantic union, and this complete lack of sentimentality primes the reader for what will be a series of bad marriages for Janie.

Race. Early on in Chapter 2, Janie realizes that she's African American. Her exact words are: "Aw, aw! Ah'm colored!" From that day on, she understands that there's a difference between her, the white children, and the other, darker black children who tease her for her light skin and her tendency to play with the white kids. This is the South, remember, and many of the adults (including Nanny) are former slaves. The lingering spectre of slavery affects all race relations in Jamie's hometown, making it difficult for the light-skinned Janie to find a community that accepts her.

Sexuality. Janie's blossoming is symbolized by the pear tree in her backyard, under which she sits when she first begins to think about her sexuality. In looking at the flowers and at the bees pollinating them Janie comes to an understanding of how sexuality functions in nature. It is, as they say, "the birds and the bees." This grounds the theme of sexuality in the natural world, making it, for the lack of a better word, natural, meaning that Hurston isn't demonizing Janie's sexuality and that the novel will in many ways be about sexual liberation.

Slavery. Nanny's experiences as a slave and as the mistress of a slave owner inform all the relationships in this novel, including Janie's arranged marriage to Logan Killicks. In juxtaposing Nanny's slavery with Janie's unwillingness to marry, Hurston implies that marriage is itself a form of slavery. Her suggestion predates the more definitive claim made by feminists in the mid 20th century that all marriage is slavery and that the institution of marriage is founded on the false belief that women should be subservient to men. History shows that marriage was mostly about forging treaties and amassing land, so while Nanny's decision to marry Janie off may seem heartless to some modern day readers, it is in fact in keeping with a long tradition of marriage being a business transaction.

Violence. Readers will be exposed to many forms of violence in this novel, but perhaps the most gruesome and chilling is that experienced by Nanny during her many years of slavery. Not only is she taken advantage of by a white slave owner, she's beaten by that man's wife, whipped, chased down by would-be slave catchers, and forced to fend for herself and her child, whom she can't protect. Her daughter, Janie's mother, is raped by a schoolteacher, and this isn't the first (and won't be the last) act of sexual violence in the novel.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 3: Summary and Analysis

Janie tries to love Logan Killicks after they marry, but she finds that she's unable to. Worried, she turns to Nanny, asking her when and if it will happen. Nanny tells her that she should be grateful, because she married a rich man and there are a lot of women out there who would love to live on sixty acres of land and have an organ in their parlor to play. Still, Janie doesn't love him and is actually repulsed by his body and his uncleanliness. Finally, she realizes that marriage doesn't necessarily bring love. Hurston writes: "Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman."


Hurston's writing is rich in metaphor, and there are many examples of it in this novel, including: "She knew the world was a stallion rolling in the blue pasture of ether." Her metaphors are most often connected to the natural world and help develop the theme of nature in the novel.


Food. When Janie and Logan marry, Nanny makes sure to have plenty of food at the reception, baking no less than three cakes and providing heaps of fried chicken. This smorgasbord symbolizes the bounty that Janie is marrying into and the life of wealth and luxury that she could enjoy, if only she allowed herself to. Later in the novel, we'll see how surplus food is again used as a symbol of wealth and prestige (and, circumlocutiously, of love).

Water. Water becomes associated with love when Logan makes a point of keeping Janie's water buckets full throughout the day. In what would be a charming parallel, Janie offers Logan a pan of water at the end of the day so he can wash off his feet, but he refuses to. This suggests that, while Logan professes to love Janie, he doesn't really need her to love him or even to be attracted to him. That isn't what their marriage is about.


Love. Janie learns fairly quickly that marriage doesn't necessarily cause love, as she originally thought. Instead, Janie comes to hate her husband Logan Killicks, and the beautiful, flowering girl we met at the beginning of Chapter 2 becomes a bitter but no less beautiful woman by the end of Chapter 3. This change comes about because Janie's opportunities for experiencing love are stripped from her prematurely, leaving her starved for affection. When that affection comes in the shape of Joe Starks, she follows it with little hesitation.

Nature. In Chapter 2, Hurston used the image of the flowering pear tree to symbolize Janie's communion with nature and her budding sexuality. Hurston continues to reinforce this connection here with a series of metaphors relating to the natural world. When she says "the world was a stallion rolling in the blue pasture of ether," she's emphasizing the beauty and the grandeur of the natural world, which, as we've seen, is connected to Janie's sexuality. This implies that Janie's sexuality, like the stallion, is a powerful force, and that one bad marriage will not be enough to destroy it.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 4: Summary and Analysis

Six months into the marriage, Logan stops doting on Janie and starts telling her she's spoiled and should do more work around the house, like chopping wood and getting feed ready for the mules. When he leaves one day to see a man about a mule, a well-dressed looking man drives by. Janie's taken with his stylish clothes and his romantic overtures, and the two start meeting in secret. His name is Joe Starks, and he will be her second husband. They run away together at the end of this chapter.


When Joe Starks tells Janie, "A pretty doll-baby lak you is made to sit on de front porch and rock and fan yo'self," this foreshadows later chapters when he says just the opposite and tells her she's not supposed to sit on the porch and talk with the men.


Clothes. In general, Janie isn't a terribly superficial person, but she does respond to beauty and cleanliness in all things, and that extends to clothes. Janie's legitimate disgust with Joe's unwashed feet, ratty clothes, and general uncleanliness is counterbalanced by her attraction to Joe Starks' new clothes, fine horse, and great ambitions. Though she feels no real sexual connection with Joe ("he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees"), she decides to leave with him because he may be able to provide her with a cleaner and prettier life. And, of course, nice clothes.

Water. Once again, water is used to develop the relationship Janie has with a man (in this case, with Joe Starks). Unlike Logan, who doesn't accept her offering of water to wash his feet, Joe gladly takes some water to drink. What's more, he pumps water for her afterward, and this parallel is meant to indicate to the reader that the two are a better match than Janie and Logan.


Hurston personifies the sun when she says it was "threatening the world with red daggers."


One example of a simile from this chapter is "the morning road air was like a new dress."


Janie's Hair. Janie's long black hair is a source of some fascination for men, including her husband Logan. He used to love touching her hair, but at the beginning of this chapter he loses interest in it. Later on in the novel, Janie's second husband Joe will have the same initial reaction to her hair, though he will force her to cover it so that other men won't be able to see it.


Hope. Janie hasn't been hopeful since the beginning of Chapter 2, when she was first learning about the birds and the bees and discovering her own sexuality. That hope of finding love was squashed in Chapter 3 when she couldn't bring herself to love Logan, but late in this chapter, with the arrival of Joe Starks, Janie begins to feel a spark of hope, if not for a great romance than for a better life. Unfortunately, this will not work out well for her.

Race. When Janie first talks to Joe, he mentions that there's an all-black community forming in Florida (he's from Georgia). This self-segregated community is meant to foster togetherness and feelings of fellowship amongst black people, as well as to protect them from the racism exhibited by their white oppressors and bosses. There were several such communities in the South at the time, and Hurston's interest in this phenomenon affords readers a second-hand glance at an interesting and sociologically unique community.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 5: Summary and Analysis

Janie and Joe Starks take the train to Maitland, Florida (a.k.a Eatonville) where a small all-black community has settled. Joe immediately asks to speak to the mayor, but quickly learns that they don't have one yet. Once he realizes that there's a power vacuum, he begins throwing his money around and decides to build a general store. Joe buys up a lot of land, which impresses people to no end, and quickly establishes himself as a pillar of the community. Janie, as his wife, becomes the most prominent woman in town, but she's too "close-mouthed" to open up to her neighbors or really get to know anyone; because of this, she's seen as distant and doesn't make any friends.

On the night of the store's grand opening, the townsfolk elect Joe Starks Mayor. His first order of business is to buy street lamps for the town. While he solidifies his position, Janie has to work at the store, which she doesn't like. Gradually, people start to think of her and Joe as a power couple and begin to fear Joe, though he isn't physically imposing. Rather, they respect his position, envy his possessions, and at times lust after his wife. This breeds a curious mix of fear and admiration, which leads them to praise Joe and give him even more power as Mayor.


Yet again, Hurston uses metaphors tied to the natural world, as in the sentence: "he's de wind and we'se de grass." The wind in this context is Joe and the grass is the townsfolk. A character named Oscar Scott uses the metaphor to express his feelings of inferiority when he's around Joe.


Flowers. Thus far in the novel, flowers have been largely symbolic, used to develop the themes of sex and sexuality. In this chapter, Hurston also uses flower imagery in other contexts, as when she writes that Joe's condescending tone "took the bloom off of things" for Janie. This is both an indication that their marriage isn't as new and fresh as she hoped it would be and a sign that Janie's youthful hope and desire is beginning to fade.


Janie's Head-rag. Joe forces Janie to wear a head-rag to cover her long beautiful hair, which Hurston established as a powerful symbol of Janie's sexuality in Chapter 4. Her head-rag is thus a symbol of the control Joe has over Janie and the often oppressive nature of their relationship. He's trying to strip her of her sexuality and make her less attractive to other men, while at the same time marking her as his possession, which he can do with as he pleases.

Joe's Spittoon. Like Joe's house, money, and clothes, his spittoon is a symbol of his wealth and social status. As soon as he gets one, the other men in town feel inferior, not just because they don't own spittoons but because they didn't even know that such things existed. This further illuminates the essential difference between the townsfolk and Joe: he has extraordinary ambition, and they don't.


Change. Hand in hand with the theme of hope is the theme of change, which Janie looked forward to back in Chapter 4 and begins to regret here in Chapter 5. When she ran off with Joe she expected them to spend more time together, to connect, to be on the same page. When that doesn't turn out to be true, she's disappointed, and this change (from hope to disappointment) is more important for her narrative than any of the changes that take place in Joe, the town, and their "friends."

Gossip. In this chapter, we see the very beginnings of the gossip mill that criticized Janie in Chapter 1. It arises from the evident gap between the townsfolk and Joe and Janie Starks, who are considered town royalty by virtue of Joe's new position as Mayor. This difference in wealth and social status separates Janie from the other citizens of Eatonville, making it hard for her to make friends. She becomes a subject of malicious gossip and a sexual object to some of the men in the town.

Money. Joe Starks makes a big show of throwing his money around in this chapter. He dips into his own pocket in order to buy street lamps for the town, and he spends the money to build a store, a huge house, and a good reputation. For these efforts, he's elected Mayor, a position afforded to him as much by his money as by his overwhelming ambition, which alienates him from Janie, who isn't happy in their marriage. Though she was certainly attracted to the idea of a richer, prettier life in Joe Starks' world, the reality of the situation (that they don't spend any time together) depresses her, and she becomes largely uninterested in money.

Power. In this novel, power is often synonymous with wealth, and the more money Joe earns at the store, the more powerful he becomes. His power over all the people of Eatonville also extends to Janie, whom he attempts to lord over, forcing her to wear a head-rag and belittling her for being unable to give a speech at the grand opening of the general store. He says, "Mah wife don't know nothin' 'bout no speech-makin'. Ah never married her for nothin' lak dat." But he did marry her to make her a slave, and that's what he starts doing in this chapter.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 6: Summary and Analysis

In this chapter, Janie's life starts to feel monotonous. She spends all her time at the store, and she isn't allowed to take part in much of the goings on around town. For instance, there's the long and judgmental critique of Matt Bonner's old yellow mule, which after many pages of "mule-baiting" and verbal abuse finally dies, standing up and very unlike a beast. Before this happens, Joe gives Matt Bonner some money to get a new mule, which everyone considers a very nice gesture. Even Janie, who resents Joe for forcing her to wear the head-rag, tells him she respects him for helping Matt out. The town holds a funeral for the mule, and Joe gives a great speech.

On Joe's porch, a group of men and women engage in a long, amusing conversation about varied topics like nature, Egypt, pharaohs, money, St. Peter, and marriage. One man borrows a dime and uses it to buy a girl a pickled pig's foot. When Joe chastises Janie for misplacing a bill, she leaves the porch and goes back into the store, bitter about her enforced silence. She and Joe stop having sex, and she starts loosening his hold over her. One day, she cuts into a conversation on the porch and says men shouldn't feel proud of their supposed "power," because the only things they've had to struggle against are women and animals. Joe summarily dismisses her, telling her that she's too mouthy. This doesn't sit well with Janie.


Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865). An American statesman and the 16th President of the United States. He's most famous for giving the Gettysburg Address, which advocated for equal rights and abolition; for freeing the slaves as a result of winning the Civil War; and for being shot in Ford's Theatre by an assassin named John Wilkes Booth. He's alluded to in this novel because of his role in freeing the slaves.

St. Peter. Saint Peter, also known as Simon Peter, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. He was crucified in Rome not long after Jesus, though he didn't consider himself worthy of being killed in the same manner as the Son of God. Tradition holds that he was crucified upside down, in part  because he had previously denied Christ three times. Today, the upside down crucifix is a symbol of St. Peter, who is alluded to here half in jest in order to claim that a woman named Daisy is an angel that Peter has let out of heaven.

George Washington (1731 - 1799). The First President of the United States of America and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. His crossing of the Delaware is memorialized in a famous painting by Emanuel Leutze. He's generally regarded as an excellent statesman as well as a superb military commander, and, like Abraham Lincoln, he's best remembered for freeing a group of people from tyranny. That's why he's alluded to in this chapter.


Flowers. Hurston continues to use the motif of flowers when she says Janie "wasn't petal-open anymore."

Funerals. Though there have already been a number of deaths in the novel (including Nanny's, in addition to the implied deaths of Janie's parents), that of Matt Bonner's mule is the first we see directly. It reads at once as an inevitability and a joke, and the mule's funeral is an outrageous event that Joe uses to show off his supposed skill as an orator. His own funeral will happen without fanfare, and Janie will only spend a short amount of time mourning him. In fact, no other funeral in this novel takes up as much space as the mule's.


Hurston uses a simile when she says Daisy shines "like brand new money."


Matt Bonner's Mule. Old, rundown, ridiculed, and disrespected, Matt Bonner's mule is constantly the butt of a joke. In this chapter, the mule becomes a symbol not only of death but of decline, which will be mirrored in the following chapters as Joe goes from Mayor to invalid to memory.


Death. Unlike Nanny's death, which the reader learns about only in passing, the death of Matt Bonner's mule is drawn out, exaggerated, turned into a ridiculous and then a depressing joke for no reason other than that the townsfolk have nothing else to do with their time. The comic overtones of the death help balance the other deaths in the novel, which are invariably tragic and life-changing for Janie. Death, though frequent and commonplace, is never stripped of its power.

Domestic Violence. Most if not all men in this novel seem to think nothing of domestic violence, and they encourage Joe when he puts Janie down and chastises her about not minding the store properly. He starts to resent her for not worshipping him and constantly expressing her gratitude for him, and this leads him to think that he "ought to box her jaws!" He's not the only man in town who's violent toward his wife and children, and he won't be the last husband who's violent (physically or emotionally) toward Janie.

Sexism. Given the time period in which the novel is set (the early 1900s), it's not surprising that all of the men in the novel are sexist and that they have now outdated ideas about what women should and should not be allowed to say and do. Janie, for instance, is expected to mind the store, tend to her husband, and keep her mouth shut. This attempt to silence her links the theme of sexism directly to the theme of power, which Joe continues to wield over Janie as if he's some kind of god.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 7: Summary and Analysis

One day Janie wakes up and realizes that she's thirty-five. Eleven years have passed since the last chapter, and she's grown weary of her life, tired of her time spent working in the store. Whenever she performs a menial task or kowtows to Joe, she imagines herself sitting under a tree with wind in her hair, like she did when she was a girl. She isn't the only one growing old, though. Joe, who was older than her when they married, looks half-dead already, and when he criticizes her for her looking old she tells him that when he pulls down his pants he looks "lak de change uh life." For this, he smacks her; but he still takes her words to heart.


Trees. In Chapter 2, Janie was depicted as a young girl sitting under a blossoming pear tree, flowering into a young woman. In this chapter, she can only dream of begin that carefree young girl whose only wish is to find love. This clears her mind and allows her to reclaim some of her old identity, giving her the strength to stand up to Joe.


Age. Time moves very rapidly in this novel, and Janie goes from being in her mid-twenties to her mid-thirties in the course of a chapter. True to his sexist nature, Joe criticizes Janie for her age and her fading beauty, reinforcing the double standard that women can't be sexual beings after they reach a certain age, even though men can. Of course, Janie's beauty isn't fading, and she will enter into her most romantic and erotic relationship shortly after Joe dies.

Gender. Unsurprisingly given the time period, women are almost constantly discriminated against in this novel and are judged more for their physical characteristics than their personality. Joe makes this abundantly clear when he calls her old and fat, as if her body is the only piece of her that matters. In a satisfying turn, Janie talks back to him, reclaiming some of her power as a woman.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 8: Summary and Analysis

Following the fight, Joe (or Jody, as he's often called) moves into the downstairs room, where he grows gradually ill. Janie continues to care for him and cook for him, but he rebuffs her kindness and begins spending time with people he never cared about before, like certain root-doctors. She frets about his healthy, asking her friend Pheoby what to do. When Joe's kidneys shut down, she sends for a doctor from Orlando and demands to talk to Joe, who hasn't been letting her into his room. She tells him that he's going to die and that he wasn't a good husband to her. He dies soon after this.


Hurston uses a metaphor when she equates Joe's facial hair with a "loose-filled bag of feathers."


Like many writers before her, Hurston personifies Death, picturing him in a house high up in the sky overlooking the world. When Joe falls ill, Janie realizes for perhaps the first time that death is unavoidable and inevitable, that there's no stopping it, and that "[no] winds can blow against [it]" to slow it down.


Hurston uses many similes in this chapter, one of which is: "But even these things were running down like candle grease as time moved on," where "these things" refers to his baggy skin.


Death. Hurston continues to develop the theme of death with her depiction of Joe's slow decline. This is the first human death that we witness with any amount of detail, and it spurs Janie to think about death for what might very well be the first time. She concludes that death is an inevitability, and that its extraordinary power makes that of nature, men, and animals pale in comparison. She isn't afraid of death, but does feel pity for Joe, who slowly succumbs to it. She'll have a very different reaction to the death of her third husband, Tea Cake.

Disease. Prior to Joe's death, there was very little mention of disease in the novel beyond that experienced by Matt Bonner's mule in his last, ignoble weeks. In this chapter, disease, in concert with old age, comes to the forefront, establishing itself as a major theme in the novel. Joe's illness, which may or may not be a relatively common kidney condition, is allowed to go unchecked because Joe is too afraid to confront the idea of his own death. This needless capitulation to disease will seem all the more foolish to readers in the final chapters, when Tea Cake must fight against his illness.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 9: Summary and Analysis

Joe's death is an ostentatious affair, with Cadillacs, Buicks, and Lincolns bringing mourners from all over Orange County. Janie projects an outward image of grief, but inside she goes "rollicking in the springtime" and looks forward to her freedom. She keeps managing the store, though, and at night, alone in that same house, she grows lonesome, thinking of all the deaths in her life. She thinks of Nanny in particular, growing angry and bitter all over again because Nanny forced her to marry Logan Killicks and in so doing crushed the happiness out of her. In her quiet moments, Janie thinks of how God made Man out of beautiful material and how the angels got jealous and cut Man into a million ugly pieces. She finds that beautiful material in herself and wants to show it off.

Just a month after Joe's death, men start coming around Janie's house, asking her if she needs an "advisor" to help her manage Joe's wealth, which she has inherited. Amused, Janie rebuffs them all, until one day Ike Green comes up to her and says that she has to be careful who she marries next. Having never considered this, Janie becomes indignant, but later realizes that there's some truth in this, and that she mustn't open up to just anyone. Instead, she should enjoy her freedom.


Hurston uses a complicated metaphor when she says that Nanny pinched the horizon into a small thin string that she tied around Janie's neck, metaphorically choking her in the name of love. The horizon in this context is Janie's dream of the future and her longing for love, which Nanny tries to kill when she marries Janie off to Logan Killicks.


Hurston uses a simile when she says that Janie's face is "like a wall of stone and steel."


Marriage. In the wake of Joe's death it becomes clear, once again, that marriage means money and power to most men in this community. They're only interested in Janie because she's rich now, and though Janie willingly goes on dates with these men, she feels no real connection with them. If marriage is a form of slavery, then the absence of marriage is an obvious sign of independence. That Janie initially refuses to consider the idea of remarriage further emphasizes how bad and disappointing her first two marriages were.

Money. Almost as soon as Joe dies, Janie goes from being a widow to a rich, independent woman whose money—rather than her beauty—attracts men to her like flies. Janie's transition from being Joe's wife to a prominent business owner gives her the freedom to spend freely, to run the store as she sees fit, and to sell the business if she wants. If she were at all politically inclined, her newfound wealth would likely afford her a leadership position in the community. When men ask her if she needs someone to advise her, it's clear that they're interested in both her money and social status.

Mourning. Traditionally, when someone loses their spouse, there's a mourning period afterward in which it's considered gauche or inappropriate to date and consider remarriage. This mourning period can be long or short, depending on the community, and general involves withdrawing from society for a while in order to mourn the deceased. Janie, who never loved Joe but still succumbs to loneliness after he dies, says that "mourning oughtn't tuh last no longer'n grief." The grief she experiences is less about Jody's death and more about the death of Janie's own youthful passion. She's mourning for herself, not for Joe.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 10: Summary and Analysis

One day, when Janie's alone in the store without the help of her employee, Hezekiah, a stranger, a tall man with a sly smile, comes up and introduces himself to her. His name is Vergible Woods, but people call him Tea Cake. He flirts with her relentlessly, telling her he walked from Orlando and inviting her to play a game of checkers. When he first goes to leave, he throws his hat at her feet to see if she'll throw it back. When she does, he rejoins her and they talk until people start to come back from the ball game. He leaves and she sits on the porch, thinking about how natural it felt to talk to him.


Hurston uses alliteration in the line "making aimless pencil marks on a piece of wrapping paper."


Checkers. Shortly after Tea Cake arrives, he and Janie play a game of checkers. Near the end of this game, just as Tea Cake is about to jump Janie's king, she grabs his hand, stopping him. This symbolizes her initial unwillingness to be beaten (that is, dominated by a man and made a slave by means of marriage). The game itself represents Tea Cake's playful character and the joy Janie experiences when she's with him.


Love. In this chapter, we see the beginnings of what will be Janie's one great love. She responds to Tea Cake immediately, charmed by his good humor and his playfulness. With him, Janie starts to feel like her youthful self, laughing and flirting and falling in love in a way she never has before. Tea Cake, the reader knows, will be her next husband, and their love, though tragic, will give Janie's life meaning where she didn't think there was any before.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 11: Summary and Analysis

One week after Tea Cake's first visit, he comes back. By this time, Janie has decided to be cold to him and push him away, but succumbs (yet again) to his charms. She jokes about him being rich, because he has his paycheck in his pocket, then plays checkers with him again. He then takes her fishing in the middle of the night, and they dig for worms by the light of a lamp. The next day, he brings her a present of fresh-caught trout. Later, Janie falls asleep while Tea Cake plays the piano and wakes up to find him running his fingers through her hair. He tells her she doesn't know how beautiful she is. She balks, uncertain of his affections.

Tea Cake doesn't come back for two days, determined to show prove to her that he still loves her in the daytime. Convinced, Janie allows him to spend the night. Despite this, Janie has her doubts about Tea Cake and isn't sure that she should go with him to the Sunday picnic. He guilts her into it by telling her that he worked like a dog for two weeks to save up enough money to take her. She agrees to go with him, setting aside her misgivings.


Paul the Apostle. Also known as St. Paul, he was an apostle who lived in the First Century. Though not one of the Twelve Apostles, he's nevertheless a prominent figure in Acts, the book of the Bible that focuses on the acts of the apostles. Tea Cake equates himself with Saint Paul because he's like an apostle, preaching to women about how beautiful they are. Janie suspects that he has done this to a lot of women, but he insists that none of the other women hold a candle to her.

Foreshadowing. Hurston uses foreshadowing when she says that Tea Cake worked "lak uh dawg." Given that he'll later contract rabies when he's bitten by a rabid dog, this idiom also functions as a subtle piece of foreshadowing.

Idioms. Tea Cake uses an idiom when he says he worked "lak uh dawg" for two weeks so he could make enough money to buy her something nice for the picnic.


Hurston uses many different similes in this chapter, including the one where Janie is "lit up like a transfiguration."


Change. In previous chapters, Hurston emphasized how Janie went from being a youthful, passionate, and hopeful woman to a bitter, unhappy widow. In this chapter, however, that change is reversed, and Janie briefly feels herself "lit up like a transfiguration." Fortunately or unfortunately, this change isn't complete, and Janie still has reservations about getting involved with a younger man. These doubts will prove justified, in the end, but for the moment their primary purpose in the narrative is to show how much Janie's character has changed and will continue to change over time.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 12: Summary and Analysis

Soon after the Sunday picnic, the people of Eatonville learn of Janie and Tea Cake's relationship. Naturally, they disapprove. Curious, Pheoby goes to see Janie, telling her what people are saying, then asking if Janie's afraid that Tea Cake is only in it for the money. Janie defends Tea Cake, but Pheoby still advises her to take care of herself. It's too late for that, however. Janie has decided to run off with Tea Cake. She's going to sell the store. Take a chance. Live her own way. It's time.


Hurston uses a simile when she describes Pheoby as picking "her way over to Janie's house like a hen to a neighbor's garden." She later compares Pheoby to a chicken to emphasize the fact that she isn't a gossip.


Colors. Eatonville's residents note with some irritation that, thanks to Tea Cake, Janie has started wearing brighter clothes and fussing with her hair. Her blue dresses and pink linens symbolize her natural beauty, her happiness in her relationship, and her freedom from Joe, whose death confined her to black mourning clothes. Her flashy new wardrobe brings her joy at the same time as it infuriates her neighbors.


Class. In Chapter 2, Hurston established that the theme of slavery was linked to violence, race, sex, and marriage. Here, Hurston links it to the theme of class, which has, in conjunction with money and power, separated Janie from the other citizens of Eatonville. Her grandmother Nanny had taught her that climbing the social ladder was important, but failed to think about what to do when one got there. Janie gets lonely, which is why she decides to give it all up for Tea Cake.

Gossip. Just like in previous chapters, Eatonville's gossips see fit to comment on and criticize everything that Janie says and does, and just like in previous chapters, Janie doesn't care. She does the exact opposite of what the town wants her to do, not because she wants to contradict them but because she wants to follow her own heart.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 13: Summary and Analysis

Janie travels to Jacksonville, Florida, where she marries Tea Cake just as soon as she gets off the train. She doesn't tell Tea Cake, but she brought $200 along with her just in case things go south and she needs to go home to Eatonville. Soon after they arrive, Tea Cake disappears one day and takes the money with him. Frightened, Janie searches the room, growing increasingly depressed, thinking that Tea Cake has taken advantage of her. She remembers the story of Mrs. Tyler, an old woman who was tricked by a young man aptly named Who Flung. Janie doesn't want to be made a fool of like Mrs. Tyler, but fears she already has been.

Tea Cake returns later with a guitar and a big grin. He tells her that she shouldn't be worried, then forces her to sit down and eat before he tells her what he was doing all day. So he tells her that he took her money and threw a big party that she wasn't invited to. He bought chicken and macaroni and invited people to party around the railroad shops. He even paid women he found unattractive $2 not to come. There was some trouble when a man took more than his fair share of chicken and gizzards, but Tea Cake took care of it. Then he bought a guitar.

Naturally, Janie's upset that Tea Cake didn't come back and take her to the party. He tells her that he intended to come, but that he didn't do it because he was afraid of losing her. The guests were rowdy railroad workers, and he worried that they were too "common" for Janie. For some strange reason, Janie buys Tea Cake's story and forgives him. He then spends the next week practicing at dice so that he can win back Janie's money. He's a good gambler, and he succeeds, but one of his opponents gets mad and cuts him because of it. He heals, and they take his winnings ($322) and go live "on the muck" in the Everglades.


Janie's threat that she'll kill Tea Cake if he ever runs off without her again foreshadows the scene in Chapter 19 when she's forced to kill Tea Cake.


Hurston uses metaphor in the line: "But it was always going to be dark to Janie if Tea Cake didn't soon come back." This darkness isn't literal but rather metaphorical, the kind of darkness that one feels when one is depressed. Its presence suggests that Tea Cake has become the center of Janie's emotional world and that she would in some ways be lost without him.


Hurston personifies the moon when she speaks of it sending out spies, being playful and foolish, and dressing all in white (a clear reference to the moon).


$200. Janie's $200 functions first as a symbol of her freedom, and then as a symbol of Tea Cake's often selfish and unpredictable behavior. It's only by chance that he happens to win it back. Had he not succeeded in this effort, their relationship may well have taken a different turn.

Dice. Tea Cake's dice are clear symbols of change. He's a gambler at heart and a risky bet himself, and when he gambles with her $200 he's metaphorically gambling with their future together. Though he is able to win the money back in the end, the fact that he was willing to gamble with it in the first place suggests that their relationship means less to him than he says it does.


Trust. One could argue that none of Janie's marriages have been founded on trust. With Logan Killicks, Janie trusted that their marriage would lead her to love him. With Joe Starks, she trusted that the life they built together wouldn't be stifling and that the world would open for her. And now, with Tea Cake, she trusts him when he says that he loves her above all others. This trust is misplaced, however, and Tea Cake's behavior in this chapter proves that he's an unpredictable, self-involved, and altogether untrustworthy man. But Janie loves him, for some reason, so she stays.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 14: Summary and Analysis

Janie and Tea Cake move to the Everglades and settle near Lake Okechobee, where they make an honest but meager living planting and picking beans. Together, they rent a rundown shack on the shores of the lake and wait for the planting season to begin. Bored, they go out hunting with Tea Cake's gun and then sell the animal skins and teeth in Palm Beach, where they spend their money having a good time.

Finally, the wave of workers arrives. Tea Cake quickly becomes popular with the other guys, and soon enough he and Janie settle into a routine where he goes off to work and she stays home and cooks. Eventually, he starts coming back for twenty or thirty minutes at a time during the day to check on her. He says it's because he misses her, but this is really a ploy to get her to come pick beans with him, thus increasing their income.

At night, the other workers crowd around Janie and Tea Cake's old shack, talking, gambling, and listening to Tea Cake play guitar. Janie enjoys this, because, unlike Joe, Tea Cake doesn't mind if she joins in the fun. She watches a contentious card game that ends with one boisterous character named Ed taking everyone's money and using it to buy new clothes from Sears and Roebuck.


Hurston makes a point of saying that Janie is a better shot than Tea Cake, foreshadowing a scene in Chapter 19 when she's forced to shoot him because he draws a gun at her.


Hurston uses a metaphor when she says "Tea Cake's house was a magnet," meaning that it drew a large crowd of people to it.


Hurston draws an obvious parallel between Janie's life with Joe and Janie's life with Tea Cake in the Everglades. With Tea Cake, Janie has the freedom to sit out on the porch, talk to the men, tell jokes, and just generally do as she pleases. This parallel suggests that, while Joe was a mean and controlling husband, Tea Cake is nice and carefree. It's meant to make Tea Cake look better, but the reader already knows that he isn't as perfect as he might seem, so the parallel doesn't have the effect Hurston intended.


Hurston repeats the word "big" to emphasize just how huge everything is in the Everglades: "Big Lake Okechobee, big beans, big canes, big weeds, big everything."


Work. This theme has woven throughout the novel, as Janie went from working on Logan Killick's farm to running Joe Starks' store to becoming a business owner herself, but work becomes all the more important in this chapter because of the brief lack of work Janie experiences. Since marrying Tea Cake, she hasn't had to work and has instead stayed home and been a housewife for the past two chapters. Originally, Tea Cake promises to support her financially, but this doesn't end up being the case, and she returns to work soon after arriving in the Everglades.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 15: Summary and Analysis

Janie grows jealous when a young woman named Nunkie starts flirting with Tea Cake. One day, Tea Cake and Nunkie disappear, and Janie finds them struggling in the sugar cane. He claims that Nunkie took his work tickets from his shirt pocket and he was only trying to get them back. Janie lunges at Nunkie, then fights with Tea Cake. They make up that same night.


Hurston uses a metaphor when she says that Janie's "little seed of fear was growing into a tree."


Domestic Violence. In previous chapters, Janie was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of Joe Starks and of poor treatment from Logan Killicks. She never fought back, and when she did, it was with words and thoughts that did no physical damage. In this chapter, however, she strikes out at Tea Cake to punish him for cheating or attempting to cheat on her. Unlike Janie, Tea Cake immediately fights back, and their struggle leads to a rough, passionate reconciliation.

Fidelity. Though Janie's previous marriages certainly weren't perfect, there has never been any mention of Joe or Logan cheating on her. No doubt, Joe had the opportunity to do so, but either refrained out of respect for Janie or did it surreptitiously, without her knowing or caring. Tea Cake's infidelity, on the other hand, is brazen, a product of his unpredictable behavior. He denies any wrongdoing on his part, but this doesn't change the fact that he's not trustworthy.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 16: Summary and Analysis

When the planting season ends, Janie and Tea Cake decide to stay on in the muck. Janie becomes friends with a light-skinned woman named Mrs. Turner, who believes black people should marry whites in order to "lighten up de race." Janie doesn't share Mrs. Turner's racist values, but talks to her all the same. Tea Cake, overhearing what Mrs. Turner says, grows offended and tells Janie to keep her new friend away from their house.


Booker T. Washington (1856 - 1915). An author and orator who became a pillar of the African American community in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. He was opposed to Jim Crow laws and became famous for a speech called the "Atlanta Compromise," in which he decried the lynchings in the South at that time. Hurston alludes to him in this chapter to when Mrs. Turner says that he wasn't a great man at all. Instead of questioning Washington's fame, which was well-deserved, Hurston uses this allusion to make Mrs. Turner seem all the more vile to the reader.


Transfiguration. Hurston repeatedly uses words like "transfiguration," "transmutation," and "change" to illustrate character development over time. Janie's character arc has been marked by periods of upheaval, turning the hopeful youth into the bitter woman who finds love at an unexpected time in her life. In this chapter, it's not Janie who undergoes the transfiguration, but Mrs. Turner, who feels as if her skin is lighter by association when she's around the light skinned, beautiful Janie Crawford.


Hurston compares the social stratification between light and dark skinned African Americans to the pecking order in a chicken yard.


Race. Until now, the theme of race has appeared mostly in relation to racism and slavery, particularly at the hands of white people. Here, Hurston refocuses the reader's attention on racism present in the African American community, where lighter skinned African Americans look down on their dark skinned counterparts. Mrs. Turner embodies this breed of self-hating racism and helps illuminate Janie's experience as a rich, light skinned black woman.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 17: Summary and Analysis

Tea Cake starts beating Janie just so he can feel better about himself. His male friends envy him for having a woman who'll take most of her beatings without fighting back. This leads the men to discuss the problem of Mr. and Mrs. Turner. It seems that Mrs. Turner is the dominant one in this relationship, and the men don't approve of that. One night, when the men all eat at Mrs. Turner's restaurant, a fight breaks out because one man, Sop, is too lazy to take his tray from the waitress. Tea Cake yells that Mrs. Turner is nice, and he doesn't want a fight in her place, but still takes the opportunity to beat up a man named Coodemay, restraining him in a chokehold until he says he's sorry. The next Monday, Coodemay and another man apologize to Mrs. Turner for the trouble.


Hurston uses alliteration in the phrase "made men dream dreams" at the beginning of the chapter.


Tea Cake's "brainstorm" at the beginning of this chapter foreshadows the fever that will overtake his brain when he contracts rabies.


Domestic Violence. Thus far, Hurston has presented domestic violence as a common occurrence in this community, a kind of violence that has been normalized precisely because it happens so often. After everything Janie has been through, the fact that Tea Cake beats her should come as no surprise to the reader. Hurston does complicate the issue, however: instead of portraying the domestic violence as little more than an everyday happenstance, she delves into the psychology behind Tea Cake's violence toward her, making it very clear that he beats Janie because he's insecure. He feels threatened by the idea of her leaving him. He feels the need to assert his dominance. These aren't justifications for his behavior, however, and no one woman should forgive a man who treats her this way.

Gender. The theme of gender is closely tied to the theme of domestic violence, which, with only very rare exceptions, means that men are abusing women, belittling them and calling them the "weaker" of the sexes, though very few of the women in this novel fit that description. In reality, many of the female characters in the novel, including Mrs. Turner, Nanny, and, at times, Janie, are capable of fending for themselves without any help from a man.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 18: Summary and Analysis

One day, Janie's at home alone in the afternoon when she sees a group of Seminoles leaving town in a hurry. She soon learns that this is because a hurricane's coming, but when Tea Cake finds out about it, he decides not to flee to higher ground. He doesn't think the storm will be a big one, and he wants to stay so that he can work the next day and make some money. This proves to be a big mistake when the hurricane (the real life Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928) floods the lake, killing thousands.

When Tea Cake and Janie finally run, it's too late. They get swept up in the flood and very nearly drown. While trying to escape the flood, Janie climbs up on a sheet of tin roofing, hoping to ride it through the storm. Unfortunately, a rabid dog comes after her, and Tea Cake, in the process of defending her, is bitten and contracts rabies. Janie won't learn this until the next chapter.


Jericho. An ancient city located near the Jordan River and the West Bank in modern-day Palestine. It was an important city in the Bible, and Jesus is said to have healed one or two blind men there on his way through the city. Hurston alludes to it in the passage about John the Conqueror, suggesting that the folk hero played some part in Biblical events.

John the Conqueror. An African American folk hero who was born a prince in Africa and then later sold into slavery. He gives his name to Ipomoea jalapa, also known as the John the Conqueror root, which is often used in hoodoo folk magics. Tea Cake and the other men who stay behind on the muck sit down to tell stories about John the Conqueror (likely in an effort to comfort themselves).

Saint Peter. "Old Peter" appears to be an allusion to Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. In the years immediately following Christ's crucifixion, Peter became one of the leaders of the early Christian Church. Today, he's considered to be the first Pope by the Roman Catholic Church. He and God are the only two not to participate in the race that John the Conqueror was said to have won in the stories the men told about him on the muck.


When Hurston writes, "His wind was lost," she uses an idiom meaning Tea Cake is out of breath.


Hurston uses a metaphor when she calls the hurricane a "monster."


Music. Hurston wrote many songs into this novel, most of which were sung in Eatonville, when Joe was mayor. In this chapter, music, which plays a major role in African American culture and has been used primarily as a form of celebration, becomes a kind of coping mechanism, a way for men on the muck to push away the thought of the hurricane they refuse to acknowledge.


Hurston personifies havoc when she writes, "Havoc was there with her mouth wide open," as if it is a person bringing chaos to the world.


The Dog. Given that Tea Cake contracts rabies from the dog and must be put down in the next chapter, it's clear that the dog is a symbol of Tea Cake's death, which has haunted the entire novel, paddling closer and closer to Janie like the ghost of this rabid dog.

The Hurricane. The weather in this novel has been largely unremarkable, with occasional references to sweat and seasons standing in for what must be hot, sticky Florida weather. In this chapter, the Okeechobee Hurricane hits Janie and Tea Cake in full force, its sudden and needless devastation symbolizing the turbulence of their marriage, which has placed them both in danger.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 19: Summary and Analysis

In the wake of the flood, everything seems more or less fine. There are bed bugs in the room Tea Cake and Janie have rented, and they squabble over whether or not to head back upstate, but they appear healthy, at least, and that's something. Tea Cake is recruited to help clear up the debris left behind by the storm. He's told to check if the bodies are white or black before dumping them in a communal grave. Officials are making coffins for the white people, it seems. Tea Cake hates this job and convinces Janie to return to the muck.

When they arrive, they find out that many of their friends survived the hurricane. Things go back to normal for three weeks, and then Tea Cake comes home one day complaining of a headache. It isn't clear yet, but he has contracted rabies from the dog who bit him during the flood. His illness makes it hard for him to drink water. Frightened, Janie calls for a doctor, who realizes that he has contracted rabies. The doctor tells Janie to put Tea Cake in the hospital, but Tea Cake hates being in hospitals, so she keeps him at home, taking care not to sleep in the same bed as him.

His friends Dockery and Sop-de-Bottom come to visit one day. While they're there, Janie goes to get the doctor again, but can't find him. Tea Cake gets suspicious because he thinks that she went out to meet Mrs. Turner's brother, who is back in town for some reason. While Tea Cake is using the outhouse, Janie finds their pistol and takes out some of the bullets, reasoning that if Tea Cake does fire on her, the chamber will be empty and he'll have time to come to his senses. He doesn't, though, and she's forced to shoot him with the rifle.

Janie is arrested and subsequently put on trial for Tea Cake's murder. There's some tension in the courtroom because Janie is being tried in front of an all-white jury, but after hearing the doctor's testimony and listening to Janie's side of the story, the jury only takes five minutes to deliberate. Janie's found not guilty, and she's free to go bury Tea Cake in peace. She pays for a funeral vault in Palm Beach, where she holds a funeral attended by all of Tea Cake's friends.


Hurston personifies death when she writes, "Death had found them watching."


There are many similes in this chapter, including one where Tea Cake rides into the afterlife "like a Pharaoh to his tomb."


Death. Tea Cake's death has been a given since the first chapter of the novel, which makes Janie's whole narrative function as a long, slow reveal, not just of the manner of Tea Cake's death but of how it affects Janie and why she returns to Eatonville after she buries Tea Cake. It's very important that Tea Cake's death takes place in the second to last chapter, rather than the last, because this makes his death a secondary narrative that informs the primary narrative (that of Janie's life story). This doesn't diminish Tea Cake's death in any way, but does put it into perspective.

Mourning. Janie previously stated in Chapter 9 that mourning shouldn't last longer than grief. This comment suggests that grief is a kind of performance, something we do both in private for ourselves and in public for an audience. When Janie is "too busy feeling grief to dress like grief," she is, in effect, refusing to perform her grief, repudiating the idea that she has to wear black and make a show of crying in front of other people. She simply grieves, and that's enough.

Race. For the most part, Janie has lived in all-African American communities, and there has been little interaction between whites and blacks, especially in comparison to today's world. In this chapter, the extreme racism of the Deep South upsets Tea Cake, who is forced to discriminate against his own race when officials demand that blacks be buried in communal graves instead of coffins. It's bad enough that Tea Cake and Janie decide to return to the muck.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 20: Summary and Analysis

In the final chapter of the novel, we return to the frame narrative, in which Janie finishes telling her life story to Pheoby. Janie says that she doesn't care what people think of her, because she has learned the most important thing in life: that there are only two things everybody has to do (to go to God and find out about living for themselves). Janie has lived for herself, and in the end, that brings her peace.


Hurston uses alliteration many times in the sentence, "The day of the gun, and the bloody body, and the courthouse came and commenced to sing a sobbing sigh…" This alliteration emphasizes the repetitive and cyclical nature of Janie's grief, which stays with her even when she finds some kind of peace at the end of the novel.


Peace. In a novel full of death, disease, domestic abuse, and slavery, it's hard to imagine that Janie could ever find peace. And yet that's exactly what she does. Her time with Tea Cake taught her to listen to her own desires, to do what she wants to do, and to see the joy in life. Though her grief doesn't disappear by any means, she does find peace at the end of the novel, when she thinks back on her life and realizes that she has finally discovered who she is and what she wants. The reader knows that the next chapter of Janie's life will see her living for herself, though this will never reach the page.