Last Updated on April 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 708
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.
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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. 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 is 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 is a good gambler, and he succeeds, but one of his opponents gets angry 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 will kill Tea Cake if he ever runs off without her again foreshadows the scene in chapter 19 when she is 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 is a gambler at heart and a risky bet himself, and when he gambles with her $200, he is 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 is an unpredictable, self-involved, and altogether untrustworthy man. But Janie loves him, so she stays.