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.