Last Updated on July 3, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1200
Janie Returns Home (Chapter 1): Janie Crawford, who is a good-looking and outgoing black woman, returns to her home in Eatonville, Florida, after being away for two years. Her neighbors are curious and quickly begin gossiping and speculating about what happened to her and her younger husband Tea Cake. They mistake her confidence for snobbery, but her friend Pheoby defends her. Janie begins telling Pheoby her life story.
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Janie’s Childhood (Chapter 2): Janie, who never knew her parents, is living with her grandmother, Nanny. Nanny, who is a former slave, is pragmatic and values financial stability and status. She is finally able to buy land and a house, where she and Janie go to live. Nanny had wanted her own daughter, Leafy, to have a good life, but Leafy became pregnant with Janie after being raped by her schoolteacher. Leafy ran away, left Janie with Nanny, and all of Nanny’s hopes were transferred onto Janie. After she catches Janie kissing an unsuitable boy, she arranges to have Janie married to a financially stable middle-aged potato farmer named Logan Killicks.
Janie Marries Logan Killicks (Chapters 3–4): Janie and Logan are married. Nanny criticizes Janie for not valuing Logan’s money and standing in the community. Nanny prays to God that Janie will learn to love him, so Nanny can die knowing that Janie is taken care of. However, a year after Nanny dies, Janie still does not love Logan. He expects her to do manual labor and accuses her of being spoiled. One day, she spots a stylish, good-looking man walking by her house and they flirt. His name is Joe Starks, and he tells Janie that he is moving to Eatonville, a new town that is being built entirely by black people. Joe and Janie run away to get married and start a new life in Eatonville.
Janie and Joe Starks Move to Eatonville (Chapters 5–6): Janie and Joe, whose nickname is Jody, discover that Eatonville is small and poorly developed. Jody, who is financially well-off, makes a spectacle of purchasing an additional two hundred acres, which he donates to the town. He becomes the town’s first mayor, and Janie quickly learns that he is a greedy and domineering man. Others grow to dislike and envy him, especially after he builds a house that is larger than any other in town, but no one challenges his authority. Janie begins working at Jody’s store. Though she loves talking with the townspeople, Jody does not permit her to socialize because he believes it would be inappropriate for the mayor’s wife to speak with “trashy people.” Jody also forces Janie to tie up her beautiful hair in a rag because he is jealous of the attention she receives because of it. Janie gradually falls out of love with Jody as he becomes increasingly abusive, but she does not speak up about her feelings.
Jody Dies (Chapters 7–8): The years pass and Janie has resigned herself to an unhappy life with Jody. She wants to run away but does not think she can find sanctuary anywhere. As Jody ages, his health and appearance deteriorate. He becomes even more verbally abusive, insulting Janie’s appearance because he is self-conscious about his own. When Jody berates her in front of a crowd, Janie's anger finally erupts. Jody savagely beats her and she moves into another room in their house. Before Jody dies of kidney failure, they speak one last time. Jody says he resents Janie for being unsympathetic, and Janie accuses him of being cruel and never listening to her.
Janie Marries Tea Cake (Chapters 9–13): Though Janie goes through the proper six months of mourning, she feels liberated and happy now that Jody is dead. She begins wearing her hair in a braid and burns all of the rags that Jody had made her wear. Suitors begin approaching her because she is attractive and wealthy, but she relishes her newfound independence. One night, a young man named Tea Cake arrives from out of town and asks Janie to play checkers with him. They flirt and begin spending time together, which creates a scandal in Eatonville. Janie’s friend Pheoby cautions her against carrying on a romance with Tea Cake because he is so much younger and is not of the same social status. However, Janie sells her store and runs away with him to Jacksonville, Florida, where they marry. Tea Cake steals the $200 that Janie brought with her in order to throw a party, and Janie is angry that he did not invite her. He wins back all of the money and more while gambling. Janie is delighted and reveals that she has $1200 saved in the bank. He declares that she will never have to spend it and that he will provide for her.
Janie and Tea Cake Move to the Everglades (Chapters 14–16): Janie and Tea Cake move to the wetlands in the Everglades—also known as “the muck”—in Florida. They plant beans and live a comfortable life. The migrant workers who arrive to farm the land gather together in bars at night to drink, chat, and listen to Tea Cake play the guitar. Janie and Tea Cake work in the fields so they can spend all day together. Janie quickly becomes threatened by a young woman named Nunkie, who is openly flirting with Tea Cake but otherwise enjoys socializing with her fellow workers. She begins spending time with Mrs. Turner, a black woman who idealizes whiteness and befriends Janie because of her lighter skin. Mrs. Turner wants Janie to leave Tea Cake and marry her lighter-skinned younger brother. Janie ignores Mrs. Turner and distances herself.
A Hurricane Devastates the Everglades (Chapters 17–18): Janie overhears several Native Americans talking about an approaching hurricane. Many workers leave the Everglades, but Janie and Tea Cake decide to stay. However, they flee when Lake Okeechobee begins to flood. They head east for higher ground, but the flooding becomes so severe that they are forced to swim. Janie tries to hold onto the tail of a cow that is floating by with an angry dog on its back. The dog begins to attack Janie, and Tea Cake saves her by stabbing the dog—but not before the dog bites him on the cheek. Janie and Tea Cake arrive safely in Palm Beach, which has been hit hard by the hurricane.
Janie Shoots Tea Cake and Returns to Eatonville (Chapters 19–20): Janie and Tea Cake return to the Everglades after witnessing the death and destruction in Palm Beach. Tea Cake’s health deteriorates rapidly about four weeks after their return, and a doctor informs Janie that the dog that bit Tea Cake was rabid. Tea Cake becomes violent and tries to shoot Janie. Janie is forced to shoot Tea Cake to save herself. Janie is put on trial the same day and all of her friends turn on her, convinced that she wronged Tea Cake. However, she is found not guilty by the all-white, all-male jury. She returns to Eatonville, heartbroken. But, as she tells Pheoby, she is content to be in Eatonville again because she has been to “the horizon and back.”