Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary and Analysis
Chapter Thirteen Summary:
Tea Cake writes a letter to Janie telling her to meet him in Jacksonville, Florida. So, one morning, before the town wakes up, Janie gets in a train and rides to Tea Cake in her blue satin wedding dress. She packs herself two hundred dollars but tells Tea Cake nothing about this money. Janie is so happy "that she scares herself."
One week after they are married, Tea Cake wakes up in the morning and leaves before Janie wakes up. Janie has breakfast with the landlady in their apartment. Janie does not worry too much about where Tea Cake could be, until she realizes that the silk purse where she had hidden the money has vanished. Janie, frantic, looks everywhere in her room for the money; she hopes that it is lost in the room rather than having been "stolen" by Tea Cake. However, Janie realizes the truth: Tea Cake has left without telling her where he was going, and he has taken her money without asking.
Immediately, Janie thinks of the example of poor Ms. Annie Tyler. Annie Tyler was a woman who lived in Eatonville; her husband died when she was fifty-two and she was left with a large sum of insurance money and a house. Annie spent all her time cavorting with younger men; one day a younger man named Who Flung began to court her. He moved into her house and then convinced her to sell the house and move with him to Tampa. On the second day of their life together in Tampa, Who Flung ran off with Annie's money, leaving her destitute. Annie returned home penniless and with a broken heart.
Thoughts of Annie Tyler haunt Janie all night. Finally, Janie bucks up her spirits: even if Tea Cake does abandon her as Who Flung abandoned Annie Tyler, Janie would never return to Eatonville as a failure. She has twelve hundred dollars in the bank and she could live from that if she needed to.
At dawn the next morning, Tea Cake returns, playing a guitar. Tea Cake knows that Janie thinks that he had left with her money, never to return. But he tells her that she should never feel that way. He tells Janie how much he loves her and that he would never leave her for another woman. If he did leave her for another woman, he would only leave her for a woman exactly like Janie.
Over breakfast, Tea Cake explains where he has been all night. In the morning, while getting dressed for breakfast, he saw Janie's money. He took it and realized on the way to the fish market that he had to spend the money. He had never felt like a millionaire before. Tea Cake decided to spend the money buying a macaroni and chicken dinner for all his friends. He buys a guitar and pays the ugly women who show up not to come into his party. He and his friends feast all night long. One man tries to eat all the gizzards and livers, the best parts of the chicken. Tea Cake fights with the man, breaks his teeth and leaves.
Janie is angry that Tea Cake didn't invite her to the party. Tea Cake explains that his friends are all very ordinary and very rough. He wouldn't want Janie to think less of him by association. Janie says that that is nonsense, and requests to always be invited in future.
Tea Cake tells Janie not to worry about the two hundred dollars. He plans to win it all back gambling on Saturday. He tells Janie that he is one of the best gamblers in the world. Tea Cake spends the whole week practicing rolling dice and shuffling cards. On Saturday he buys a knife and some cards and goes off to gamble.
Around daybreak, Tea Cake arrives home, but he is badly cut and injured. He tells Janie that he has won her two hundred dollars back and was going to come home earlier, but the other gamblers wanted a chance to win their money back from him. He continued playing for a few more hours and won all of their money. As he was leaving, one of the gamblers named Double Ugly stabbed him with his razor; Tea Cake pulled out his knife and beat the man until Double Ugly was scared and Tea Cake came home. Janie listens to the story while applying iodine to Tea Cake's wounds and crying.
Tea Cake tells her not to cry because he has won lots of money. Janie counts it: three hundred and twenty-two dollars. He tells Janie to take back her two hundred dollars and also tells her that he will provide for her from now on. He says that she must rely on him, and his money only, which Janie readily agrees to do.
Tea Cake says that when he recovers from the cuts he wants to head to the Muck down in the Everglades because "folks don't do nothin' down dere but make money and fun and foolishness."
In this chapter, the love between Janie and Tea Cake is tested for the first time, and they reveal their true selves to one another. At the beginning of the chapter, Janie hides money in her dress in case the relationship with Tea Cake does not work out. Her withholding of the money, as per Phoebe's advice, suggests that Janie is not yet prepared to be totally vulnerable and honest with Tea Cake. Tea Cake, too, holds back part of himself. He does not reveal his real friends to Janie, thinking that she would dislike him once she knew them. By the end of the chapter, however, Tea Cake and Janie finally are able to be more honest with one another.
The guitar is an important recurring motif. Tea Cake played an invisible guitar in his first meeting with Janie; in this chapter he buys a real guitar. This draws yet another contrast with Joe. Joe used his loud and demeaning voice to dominate people; Tea Cake uses the more subtle tool of music.
The story of Annie Tyler reiterates a moral of Their Eyes, which is that when people try to make themselves into something that they are not, they end up unhappy. When Tyler runs away with a younger man, the "improvements" to her appearance are an effort on her part to look and behave like a white woman. For example, Annie "dyed her hair," "straightened it," and wore "blotchy powder." All the characters who are miserable in the novel have "white" values: they are driven by money and power and make themselves look unnatural.
Chapter Fourteen Summary:
Janie and Tea Cake move to the Everglades, very near Lake Okechobee. They arrive in early September to ensure that they can find a house, because when the bean-picking season begins, the boarding houses will be too full to even find floor space to sleep on.
Once the season begins, Tea Cake spends his day picking beans while Janie tends the house. Although Tea Cake spends a lot of free time entertaining Janie with his guitar, there still is not much for her to do. So Tea Cake teaches Janie how to hunt and fish. Thanks to Tea Cake's encouragement, Janie becomes an exceptional hunter, better even than her husband.
At night the pianos "clang and clamor." People sing the blues and "dance, fight, sing, cry, laugh, win and lose love." Tea Cake's house becomes the center of social life. People come to hear him play the guitar and laugh at his stories. Tea Cake starts visiting Janie during the day. One day, Janie asks why. He tells her that he misses her too much to be away all day long. He asks her to come out to the field to work with him and she does.
At night, the men have discussions and arguments, just as they used to on the porch in Eatonville. Only here, Janie can "listen and laugh and even talk some herself if she wants to. She [gets] so she can tell big stories herself from listening to the rest." Some of the men gamble: namely, Ed Dockery, Bootyny, and Sop-de-Bottom. One night, after a nerve-racking game, Ed Dockery wins a pile of money. He tells the others that he is sending the money straight to Sears and Roebuck to buy clothes. He says, "And when I turn over Christmas day, it would take a doctor to tell me how near Ah is dressed tuh death."
When Janie comes to the Everglades, she learns to fully appreciate black culture. She sees that impoverished men and women can manage to find true joy and love in the black, itchy Muck of the Everglades. Hurston, in this chapter, reconciles two extreme contrasts. First, she describes the depth of destitution of the blacks converging on the 'Glades: "Day by day now, hordes of workers poured in. Some came limping with their shoes and sore feet from walking... They came in wagons from up in Georgia and they come in truckloads from east, west, north and south. Permanent transients with no attachments and tired looking men with their families and dogs in flivvers. Skillets, beds, patched up spare inner tubes all hanging and dangling from the ancient cars on the outside and hopeful humanity, herded and hovered on the inside, chugging on to the muck. People ugly from ignorance and broken from being poor."
Then, Hurston describes vividly their joie de vivre: she describes pianos playing all night long; she describes people singing and dancing and gambling. These contrasting images placed together articulate in picaresque form the great accomplishment of black culture at the time: their transcendence above poverty and destitution through a reliance on music, conversation, play, and love.
This chapter contains heavy foreshadowing of the flood to come. Hurston describes Okechobee as "Big" several times and then writes: "they rattled nine miles in a borrowed car to the quarters and squatted so close that only the dyke separated them from the great, sprawling Okechobee."
One difference between Janie's marriages is that Tea Cake is the leader of his community just as Joe was the leader of his. However, Tea Cake's leadership is not oppressive. He leads the other workers' laughter and encourages them to play in the fields. Instead of using a "big voice" to oppress, he entertains with his guitar and his good humor.
Chapter Fifteen Summary:
A little, chunky girl named Nunkie begins to flirt with Tea Cake, tapping on his shoulder and then running into the fields hoping that he will chase her. Sometimes he does. Janie is worried that Nunkie is weakening Tea Cake's loyalty to her.
One day, Janie leaves Tea Cake's side to chat with another woman. When she looks back, Tea Cake and Nunkie have disappeared. Janie runs into a row of sugar cane and finds them on the floor struggling. Janie tries to grab Nunkie but she runs off. She asks Tea Cake what he is doing, and Tea Cake says that Nunkie took his working tickets and he had to fight with her to get them back. Janie goes home.
Tea Cake follows her home, and Janie slaps him. They fight for a while, shouting and struggling, but they make up and have sex. When they wake up, Janie asks if Tea Cake loves Nunkie. Tea Cake says he never loved Nunkie. He tells Janie that no one can compare to her. He describes his wife as "something tuh make uh man forgit tuh git old and forgit tuh die."
Rather than focusing on black culture as many of the other chapters do, this chapter deals with the more universal theme of feminine jealousy. Janie's fear and anger regarding Tea Cake's possible affair are feelings that every woman past and present can relate to. Janie's loving relationship with Tea Cake is reinforced yet again by his unwillingness to look at other women.
Chapter Sixteen Summary:
The season of bean-picking ends and Janie begins to notice parts of her community that she had been too busy to notice before. She notices Bahaman drummers and she and Tea Cake spend evenings together enjoying their music.
Janie also gets to know Mrs. Turner. Mrs. Turner is a mixed-race woman. Her skin is "milky," her nose is "slightly pointed," her lips are thin, and her bottom is small. Mrs. Turner does not understand why Janie associates with black people or why she married a man as dark as Tea Cake. Mrs. Turner feels that women like herself and Janie that are partly white should try to "lighten the race" by only associating and marrying people that have a light skin color. Janie laughs at Mrs. Turner's ideas and tells her that Tea Cake is a wonderful man: "He kin take most any lil thing and make summertime out of it when times is dull."
Mrs. Turner continues to show her disdain for black people; she does not understand why blacks laugh so much and so loudly. She tells Janie that she thinks that the black race is dragging down people like herself. If the blacks were not there, white people would embrace mixed race people and include them in their culture. She tells Janie that she never shops at black shops; she thinks that blacks have no business sense. Then, Mrs. Turner tells Janie that she would be better off married to another, lighter man, particularly Turner's brother.
Finally, after some time, Mrs. Turner leaves. Janie goes into the kitchen and finds Tea Cake sitting with his head in his hands. Tea Cake overheard the entire conversation. He tells Janie that if Mrs. Turner hates black people so much, she should stay away from him and Janie. He tells Janie that he is going to tell Mrs. Turner's husband to keep Mrs. Turner away from their house.
Then one day, Tea Cake runs into Mr. Turner and his son on the street. Tea Cake wanted to instruct Turner to keep Mrs. Turner away from his home, but Mr. Turner was such a weak man that Tea Cake realizes Turner would not be able to prevent Mrs. Turner from doing anything. So Tea Cake tells Janie to snub Mrs. Turner every time she sees her.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Turner believed that Janie had the right to snub her because she had lighter skin. Her continued presence didn't bother Tea Cake and Janie that much because it gave them something to talk about during the dull summer months on the Muck. Sometimes they would make day little trips to the beach to pass the time; but soon enough the summer months were over and droves of people returned to the muck to do the picking.
Some critics rebuke Hurston for not infusing her literature with protests against racism and hatred. This chapter tends to refute that type of argument. Instead of writing "angry" literature to support black culture, Hurston's Their Eyes is a celebration of black culture, black music, and the black oral tradition.
In this chapter, Janie must defend black culture, interestingly, to another black woman. Mrs. Turner is a weak, ugly woman who takes pride only in her white characteristics and has distaste for her black characteristics. Turner ridicules blacks for laughing too much, for "whooping and hollering," for wearing bright colors, and for being poor. But Janie defends her black culture through her lifestyle choice. She marries Tea Cake and comes to the Muck to work and live and learn. Unlike her contemporaries who wrote about black rights in "white prose," Hurston supports the language and life of her people by writing in their dialect.
One important contrast in this chapter is the difference between the "white" and "black" perceptions of God. Mrs. Turner embraces the white perception of a cruel and uncaring God. She thinks, "All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped." Later in the novel, the reader is shown a clearer explanation of the traditional black perception of God. So far the reader has not seen God characterized specifically. Death is separated from God by Janie, and thus the cruelty that Mrs. Turner identifies with God would probably not be identified with Janie's God.
Their Eyes Were Watching God Essays and Related Content
- Their Eyes Were Watching God: Major Themes
- Their Eyes Were Watching God: Essays
- Their Eyes Were Watching God: Questions
- Their Eyes Were Watching God: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Zora Neale Hurston: Biography
- Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary
- About Their Eyes Were Watching God
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-16
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-20
- Hurston: Part of the Harlem Renaissance?
- Related Links on Their Eyes Were Watching God
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources