Tea Cake

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Last Updated on July 23, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

Extended Character Analysis

Vergible Woods, or “Tea Cake,” is Janie’s third husband, who serves as a foil to her previous husband, Joe Starks. Whereas Joe was only concerned with status and wealth, Tea Cake works as a blue-collar migrant agricultural laborer in Florida. He does not control Janie, and he allows her to express herself in any way she desires. 

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He is 25 years old when Janie first meets him. She is instantly drawn to his youthful, positive, easy-going personality. They flirt, begin spending time together, and fall in love. Janie's friend Phoeby advises against Janie's pursuing a relationship with Tea Cake because of their age and social-status differences. However, despite being happy and independent in her widowhood, Janie chooses to marry him, selling the store in Eatonville, which she inherited after Joe Starks' death, so they can have money for their life together. 

Once they marry, Janie and Tea Cake move to Jacksonville, Florida. Their relationship is initially unsteady. Janie questions Tea Cake’s character when she discovers that he stole $200 from her. He apologizes, explaining that he didn’t take her money maliciously. He wins back her money gambling, and they move to the Everglades. There, Tea Cake includes Janie in the Black community for the first time in her life. Janie works with Tea Cake in the fields, and they host parties and dances in their home. They share equal domestic responsibilities, like cooking and cleaning. Tea Cake never places restrictions on Janie, and he even helps her learn new skills like hunting and fishing, which she hadn't previously been allowed to learn because they were seen as unfeminine.

Tea Cake values Janie and treats her better than her previous husbands, providing her with a positive male influence in her life. However, he also displays unideal characteristics: He enjoys gambling and knife-fighting, and Janie catches him responding to the flirtations of a young girl named Nunkie. When Mrs. Turner introduces her lighter-skinned brother to Janie, Tea Cake becomes plagued with jealousy. He beats Janie in order to show dominance over her. Despite Tea Cake’s gambling, jealousy, and womanizing, Janie still loves him unconditionally. 

After two years together, a hurricane hits the Everglades. Although Janie and Tea Cake escape to safety, a rabid dog bites Tea Cake and he contracts rabies. After a few days in Palm Beach, they return to the Everglades, but the disease causes Tea Cake to grow paranoid and jealous of Janie. Eventually, he becomes violent, and Janie is forced to shoot him out of self-defense when he tries to kill her. 

Despite his death, Tea Cake lives on in Janie’s memory in colorful and bright imagery: 

“Tea Cake came prancing around her where she was and the song of the sigh flew out of the window and lit in the top of the pine trees. Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. Of course he wasn't dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace.” 

Unlike her previous two husbands, Tea Cake fostered Janie’s individuality and self-expression and allowed her to feel spiritually fulfilled. 

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