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.