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.