Illustration of the profile of Janine Crawford and another person facing each other

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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How does Janie react to Mrs. Turner's prejudice in Chapter 16 of Their Eyes Were Watching God? Why doesn't Mrs. Turner like Tea Cake? What kind of foreshadowing occurs in Chapter 17? In Chapter 18, what is the significance of the line "Six eyes were watching God" and the dog bite Tea Cake receives?

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Chapter 16:

1) Mrs. Turner is very clearly prejudiced. How does Janie react to her? Janie humors Mrs. Turner and indulges the older woman's behavior. Janie doesn't try to change Mrs. Turner's views about race as she doesn't believe that her efforts will prove effective. Clearly, Mrs. Turner's beliefs about race are too entrenched for Janie to change. Essentially, Janie tolerates Mrs. Turner despite her aversion to the older woman's convictions about race.

“Her husband can’t do nothin’ wid dat butt-headed woman. All you can do is treat her cold whenever she come round here.” Janie tried that, but short of telling Mrs. Turner bluntly, there was nothing she could do to discourage her completely.

2) Why doesn't Mrs. Turner like Tea Cake? Mrs. Turner despises Tea Cake for superficial reasons. To Mrs. Turner, lighter skin and Caucasian facial features are deemed the most attractive and advantageous of physical characteristics. Since Tea Cake fails to live up to this narrow image of physical perfection, Mrs. Turner considers him unworthy of her acquaintance. 

She didn’t forgive her for marrying a man as dark as Tea Cake, but she felt that she could remedy that.

3) How is Turner characterized? Why does Hurston's narration change in the chapter? Turner is characterized as a meek man who is resigned to his wife's stubborn nature and to her egregious attitudes about race. In the story, Tea Cake tries to get Turner to rein his wife in, but the older man maintains that he is powerless to affect his wife's actions in any way. 

“Mah wife takes time fuh whatever she wants tuh do. Real strong headed dat way. Yes indeed.”

In the chapter, Hurston's dialogue is couched in African-American vernacular speech. For most of the chapter, the nature of the dialogue mirrors the narrator's voice. However, when the narrator discusses Mrs. Turner's views about race, she uses grandiose religious metaphors to describe the older woman's convictions. 

Anyone who looked more white folkish than herself was better than she was in her criteria, therefore it was right that they should be cruel to her at times, just as she was cruel to those more negroid than herself in direct ratio to their negroness. Like the pecking-order in a chicken yard. Insensate cruelty to those you can whip, and groveling submission to those you can’t.

Mrs. Turner, like all other believers, had built an altar to the unattainable—Caucasian characteristics for all. Her god would smite her, would hurl her from pinnacles and lose her in deserts, but she would not forsake his altars. Behind her crude words was a belief that somehow she and others through worship could attain her paradise—a heaven of straighthaired, thin-lipped, high-nose boned white seraphs.

Hurston's narration changes to alert readers to the fact that Mrs. Hurston's dogmatism is inspired not by rational sentiments but by an almost fanatical, religious conviction about whiteness. 

Chapter 17

1) What kind of foreshadowing occurs at the beginning of the chapter? At the beginning of the story, the author uses foreshadowing through irrational concern to alert us to the approaching conflict between Tea Cake and Mrs. Turner. 

Before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all.

It is obvious that Janie has no desire to run off with Mrs. Turner's brother. However, Tea Cake's insecurities get the better of him, and he resolves to rough Janie up a bit in order to show Mrs. Turner that he's a man to be reckoned with. Tea Cake really has no reason to distrust Janie's loyalty, so we can say that his fears are irrational. This foreshadowing prepares us for how Tea Cake acts to get Mrs. Turner to leave town.

Chapter 18

1) "Six eyes were questioning God." What is the significance of that line? The line describes the human tendency to petition Providence during times of unrest or crisis.

2) Discuss the dog bite Tea Cake receives. What is significant about it? In Chapter 18, Tea Cake gets bitten while trying to save Janie from a panicking canine. He is wounded before he can kill the dog. In Chapter 19, it is revealed that Tea Cake was bitten by a dog that had rabies. So, the dog bite Tea Cake receives in Chapter 18 is significant because it explains his violent behavior towards Janie in Chapter 19. Essentially, Tea Cake's insecurities are compounded by his illness, and he attacks Janie indiscriminately. In the end, Janie is forced to fire a fatal shot at Tea Cake. So, the dog bite in Chapter 18 foreshadows Tea Cake's demise in Chapter 19.

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