Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-12

Chapter Nine Summary:

On the outside, Janie participates in the funeral and the requisite mourning period. But, on the inside, she rejoices. She is finally free of the heavily restricted life that Joe forced her into. She celebrates by burning the headrags that Joe forced her to wear.

Janie spends some time considering her future. She realizes that it is time for her to embark on her journey to the "horizon," a journey where she hopes to meet people rather than just gather "things" as she has been doing so far in her life. She considers tending her grandmother's grave or searching for the mother that abandoned her, but she realizes that neither woman encouraged her freedom and her quest for the horizon.

Men from Janie's community and beyond try to encourage Janie to think about remarrying; specifically, the men want her to marry them and share Joe's wealth with them. But Janie enjoys her freedom and tells her many beaus to give her some time. After all, Joe's dead body has not even had time to "get cold yet;" he has only been dead for two months.

Hezekiah continues to help Janie in the store, and he adopts some of Joe's mannerisms like smoking and treating people badly. But Janie appreciates his presence; it makes running the store bearable and less lonely. Janie confesses to Pheoby that she is not worried by Joe's death; she's enjoyed the freedom that comes with it. Pheoby tells her to keep that fact quiet because "folks will say she's not sorry he's gone." Janie says that she does not care what people think.


This chapter is the third major denouement in Janie's life and her period of adjustment to a life without Joe. One of the most memorable images of the novel is the image of Janie "starching and ironing" her face. It first occurred in the previous chapter, but it recurs in this chapter:

"Janie starched and ironed her face and came set in the funeral behind her veil. It was like a wall of stone and steel. The funeral was going on outside. All things concerning death and burial were said and done. Finish. End. Nevermore. Darkness. Deep hole. Dissolution. Eternity. Weeping and wailing outside. Inside the expensive black folds were resurrection and life...She send her face to Joe's funeral and herself went rollicking with the springtime across the world."

One of the interesting techniques that Hurston uses here is ambiguity. The first sentence says that Janie "starched and ironed her face" and came to the funeral "behind her veil." Because "face" and "veil" are both used in the sentence, the reader is led to believe that Janie is wearing a veil over her face. But, the next sentence reads: "It was like a wall of stone and steel." Here, the use of "it" is ambiguous. Does "it" refer to Janie's face, or the veil? In fact, "it" seems to indicate that there is no veil at all, but rather just a face. The veil is simply a metaphor. This metaphor continues through the paragraph, "Inside the expensive black folds were resurrection and life." Again, a cursory glance might lead the reader to believe that Janie is wearing an expensive veil. But this is probably not the case. The folds of Janie's veil are "expensive" because they were developed over time; the folds are metaphors for the wrinkles in Janie's skin caused by her stressful and oppressive relationship with Joe. The folds are expensive because they have cost Janie her youth.

These metaphors are effective due to the style of narration. Had the story been told through a first person point of view, or an omniscient point of view, the reader would demand more specific details. But, here, the story is told as it is recollected to Pheoby; because the events are memories, they take on a dreamlike quality. It is not strictly necessary to know whether Janie is really wearing a veil, or if her face is like a veil.

Every feeling that Janie experiences is divided into binaries. For example, Janie mourns on the outside, but rejoices on the inside. Her years of sadness are caused by on her forced pursuit and acquisition of material things, rather than her desire of pursuing and meeting people. Her pursuit of the horizon is juxtaposed against her grandmother's strangulation of her freedom. Nanny belongs to the type of person who deals in scraps; whereas Janie can see wonderful ships in mud-puddles. These oppositions are set up for a distinct reason: Hurston wants to convince the reader that Janie's epiphany is the only correct answer in determining a meaning for life. Hurston does not want the reader to sympathize with Joe's goal of becoming wealthy and successful; Hurston is, in fact, opposed to people finding joy in such goals. She wants the reader to come to the realization, along with Janie, that true joy in life is obtained by "seeeing in mud-puddles an ocean with ships." These oppositions frame and countenance the authority with which Hurston states her theme.

Chapter Ten Summary:

One evening, Hezekiah asks if he can leave work a bit early to head to a ball game. The entire town is at the game except, of course, for Janie, who feels that it is important to mind the store.

In the early evening, a man walks into the store; although Janie has never met him, he looks familiar. Janie asks where he is from and he says that he is from Orlando, seven miles away. Then he buys some Camel cigarettes. He asks Janie for a light.

Janie is concerned that because everyone is at the ball game, the gentleman will be unable to go home. All the cars are gone. The gentleman says that he would love to play Janie at checkers to pass the time. Janie is "glowing on the inside" because nobody has ever asked her to play before. Janie notices how handsome the man is.

They play for a while and soon the man takes her king piece; Janie refuses to give up the piece. They mock fight for a bit and in the commotion they tip the game over and laugh. The gentleman comments that "you just can't beat a woman, they won't stand for it." The man says, too, that Janie could become a great checkers player some day; "she has the brains for it."

The man suggests that they take a break and drink some Coke. Janie says that there are plenty of cold sodas left because everyone is at the game. The man tells her that she, too, should be at the game. It isn't fair for everyone to have fun except her! He's worried about her. Janie says that she's worried about him too. How is going to get home? The gentleman says not to worry. At the worst, he could walk. Janie is shocked; how could anyone walk seven miles? She would rather take the train, so long as she has money for the fare. The man laughs; he would never pay for a train ride because he knows how to jump on the train and ride it without paying.

Janie asks the man what his name is. He says that his name is Vergible Woods, but everyone calls him Tea Cake for short. Janie flirts, "are you as sweet as all that?" Tea Cake extends the flirtation, "You should try me and see."

The flirtation has become a little too sexual, and Janie grimaces in embarrassment. Tea Cake acknowledges the embarrassment and makes a joke. He walks toward the door, saying that he's "cut a hawg," and pretends to leave. He tells Janie that he deserves a pound of "knuckle pudding," and Janie laughs and says that he deserves ten. Tea Cake sits back down with her and they continue joking for the rest of the evening. He helps her close the store at the end of the night, and Janie appreciates his help. Tea Cake walks Janie home. For a moment, Janie questions Tea Cake's motives. But he quickly says goodnight and leaves.


This chapter is important because it introduces the third and final man in Janie's life: Tea Cake. Hurston carefully draws contrasts between this new man and the departed Joe Starks.

The first important difference between the men is Janie's degree of sexual attraction to each. Janie loved Joe's ambition and his ability to dream, but she was never explicitly attracted to him physically. However, Janie is physically attracted to Tea Cake and his archetypically African-American features from the first moment that she sees him. She notices his "full purple lips," she admires his "full lazy eyes," with his "lashes curling sharply like drawn scimitars." She notices his "lean, over-padded shoulders" and his "narrow waist." Their flirtatious banter is a different sort of discourse with men than Janie has ever enjoyed before.

Another important difference from Joe Starks is that Tea Cake wants Janie to be a part of her community, to be like everyone else. Joe Starks always wanted Janie to stand out, to stand above everyone else. Tea Cake tells Janie that she should be at the game enjoying the sports with her neighbors. He tells Janie that she should learn to play checkers like the others, something that Joe would never allow her to do. Tea Cake tells Janie that she should learn to walk instead of relying on trains and cars.

There are many subtle allusions to their future relationship in this chapter. When Tea Cake walks in and asks for a light for his cigarette, he asks Janie, "got a lil piece of fire over dere, lady?" Literally, of course, this means that he needs to light his cigarette. Metaphorically, he seems to recognize the "fire" that Janie has inside her. This symbol links back to chapter nine, where the narrator compares the people of the world to mud balls with a spark inside them. The narrator comments that Janie struggles to make her spark shine.

Chapter Eleven Summary:

Janie wants to ask Hezekiah about Tea Cake but decides not to. She rationalizes the reasons that a relationship between them would not work. First, he is twenty-five and she is forty. Plus, it's obvious that he does not have much money; she thinks that he is probably just being nice to her so that he can have her cash. Janie prepares to snub Tea Cake the next time that she sees him.

About a week after their first meeting, Tea Cake comes to the store pretending to play an invisible guitar. Janie laughs at his playfulness. Tea Cake says it's time to drink some Cokes. Janie tries to snub Tea Cake as she had planned; she tells Tea Cake that she has already had a Coke. Tea Cake is unwilling to be snubbed; he replies that she will just have to drink another.

Janie asks how Tea Cake has been. Tea Cake tells her that he has been working hard and that he has made some money. Janie sarcastically jokes that Tea Cake is now a "rich man." Tea Cake is not about to be put down, so he plays along. He tells her that he can get Janie a battleship or a passenger train; he'll get her whatever she wants because "it all depends on her."

Tea Cake and Janie play checkers, and at the end of the evening Tea Cake comes over to Janie's for a snack. Janie gets some pound cake and Tea Cake picks lemons from the tree and makes lemonade. Tea Cake tells Janie that the moon is too beautiful not to enjoy it. He suggests that they go fishing. Digging for worms by lamplight is so crazy that Janie feels like a "child breaking the rules." They catch a few fish, and then they have to smuggle Tea Cake out of the back gate so that Janie's neighbors won't gossip.

In the morning, Hezekiah tells Janie that she should not allow Tea Cake to walk her home; people in the town will speculate that something is going on. Janie asks why Hezekiah is concerned: is Tea Cake a thief? Is he married? Hezekiah responds no, but that Tea Cake does not make money, or spend it. Janie is not concerned about that; she tells Hezekiah not to worry.

At night, Tea Cake is waiting for Janie at her doorstep with a string of trout to eat. They have dinner and then Tea Cake combs Janie's hair, scratching the dandruff from her scalp. Janie asks why Tea Cake brought a comb. Tea Cake replies that he had been wanting to touch Janie's hair for a long time; he has had trouble sleeping because he has been wanting to touch her hair so badly. He tells Janie that she has beautiful hair, eyes, and lips. She lets others enjoy her beauty but she should stare into the mirror sometimes and enjoy her own beauty. Janie tells Tea Cake that he probably says that to all the women and Tea Cake says that that is true: "I'm the apostle to the Gentiles; I tell them and then I show them."

Janie is upset; he seems to have confirmed her fear that he is a cold-hearted womanizer. She tells Tea Cake that she is tired and ready to go to sleep. Tea Cake tells Janie that she's lying. He realizes that he has upset her with what he has said and that she's making excuses to get rid of him. Janie is cold; she says that he shouldn't care what she thinks, she is not his girlfriend. Tea Cake tells Janie that he loves her; Janie is cold again, saying that those are his "night" thoughts, and that in the morning he won't feel the same way.

Upset, Tea Cake hurriedly leaves. He cannot manage to convince her of his feelings. Janie wakes up in the morning with someone knocking at her door and it is Tea Cake. He has come to tell her that he loves her. These are not just "night" feelings. He loves her all the time, morning and night. That night they have supper and sleep together. She asks Tea Cake about the problem of their large age difference. He says that age is only a matter of convenience, not love.

Tea Cake disappears for a few days and Janie begins to doubt his sincerity. But on the fourth day, Tea Cake arrives in an old car. He has come to take her grocery shopping for the Sunday picnic. He wants her to have all the best things to eat. Janie asks him if he is certain he wants her to go to the picnic with him. He says that he has worked very hard for four days to make enough money to buy good food for her. Janie says that she loves Tea Cake, too, but tells him not to pretend to love her if he really doesn't. He says that God can kill him if he's lying; no one can hold a candle to Janie.


This chapter is about love. It is the first chapter in the novel where the real issues surrounding love are articulated: fear, doubt, sincerity, and sacrifice. Because this is the first time in the novel that these issues emerge, the reader can conclude that her relationship with Tea Cake is the first time that Janie has truly loved.

One of the most interesting images of the chapter is the battleship at the beginning. The reader is reminded of the first image of the book: ships on the horizon. Somehow, Tea Cake brings Janie closer to the horizon; he offers her battleships to sail to the horizon with. Tea Cake is also the first man in Janie's life to love her hair. He caresses it, dreams about it, and combs it. His feelings toward her hair are markedly different from Joe's feelings. Joe had tied Janie's hair back in hair rags, prohibiting it from showing. The image of the gate reemerges as well. Tea Cake comes through the gate to Janie. It is the first time that a man has come through the gate to her, as opposed to her having to leave through a gate to find a man. Another reoccurring image is the image of pear tree blossoms. Janie searches for the "bee for her blossom" throughout the novel and is convinced that in Tea Cake she has found her allusive bee.

Janie's identification with nature and the moon in the previous chapter is echoed by Tea Cake in this chapter; it is he who suggests that the moon is too beautiful to waste and that they spend the night fishing so as to be able to admire it. Tea Cake's affiliation with nature is an indication of his compatibility with Janie. He has no possessions; when a prop is necessary (like a guitar) he pretends to own it, showing independence from the material world. Tea Cake woos Janie throughout the chapter by relying on nature for his gifts. He provides her, for example, with fish that he catches and lemonade from lemons that he picks.

Importantly, too, the gifts that Tea Cake provides Janie with are all edible; literally, he feeds her, and metaphorically, he nourishes her spirit. He provides her with Coke, lemonade, fish, and, at the end of the chapter, a ride to a grocery story to buy food for the picnic. When Janie decides to accept Tea Cake's love the evening that he is sleeping on her hammock on the porch, her first words are, "I don't know about you, but I'm hongry." Food serves as a proxy for the more difficult phrases of courtship and love.

In the chapter where Joe dies, Death is personified as a square-toed fiend. In this chapter, the reader is introduced to a similarly personified monster: Doubt. "Doubt is the fiend from hell especially provided for lovers." Hurston indicates that doubt and death are uncontrollable and inevitable. We cannot blame Janie for the death of Joe, nor can we blame her for doubting Tea Cake's love.

Chapter Twelve Summary:

After the town picnic, Janie's and Tea Cake's relationship becomes a public. The town criticizes Janie for ceasing to mourn the death of her husband so soon and for taking up with a man with no money or power.

One evening, Sam Watson asks Pheoby to talk to Janie about her relationship with Tea Cake and warn her about making a mistake. Sam believes that Tea Cake is only spending money on Janie now so that he can take all of her Janie's money later. Sam reminds Pheoby of poor Ms. Tyler, a wealthy widow whose money was stolen by a man who pretended to love her.

Pheoby talks to Janie the next morning, asking her why she allows Tea Cake to take her to places she used to never go to like baseball games, fishing ponds, and forests. Janie explains that she never wanted to do the things that Joe deemed classy, but her former husband had forced her to remove herself from public society. Pheoby also tells Janie that she should stop wearing bright colors in public; it seems to everyone that she has stopped mourning for Joe Starks too soon.

Janie explains that she has stopped grieving so why should she continue to mourn? Also, she wears bright colors, specifically blue, because Tea Cake likes to see her in blue. Joe Starks never picked a color that he liked to see her in.

Furthermore, Janie intends to marry Tea Cake, sell the store, and move out of town. Janie is done with living a life of property and wealth, her "Grandma's way of life." She says, "Dis ain't no business proposition, and no race after property and titles. Dis is uh love game. Ah done lived Grandma's way, now Ah means tuh live mine." Her grandmother saw property-owning as restricted to whites, so she valued it highly. But Janie lived her grandmother's dream and almost died doing it: "Ah done nearly languished tuh death tuh death up dere. Ah felt like de world wuz cryin' extry and Ah ain't even read the common news yet."

Janie tells Pheoby not to tell anyone about her upcoming marriage, not because she is embarrased, but because she doesn't want to have deal with gossip in town. Pheoby says: "Ah jus lak uh chicken. Chicken drink water, but he don't pee-pee" meaning that information won't leak out of her into the public arena.

Pheoby warns Janie that she is taking a big chance by running off with Tea Cake, but Janie tells Pheoby that it isn't really a big risk. Tea Cake has "taught [her the] maiden language all over." He's bought her a blue satin wedding dress, and someday soon she'll put on the dress and leave town to be married and start a new life.


This chapter is crucial because Janie finally recognizes in concrete terms the differences between her grandmother's dream and her own dream. She develops the courage to look for her own dream life, a life of love, although she is haunted by stories of women who were misled by the illusion of love.

Some interesting irony, ambiguity, and understatement are found at the beginning of the chapter. Details of Tea Cake's and Janie's relationship are laid out through the events of their courtship:

"Tea Cake and Janie gone hunting. Tea Cake and Janie gone fishing. Tea Cake and Janie gone to Orlando to the movies. Tea Cake and Janie gone to a dance. Tea Cake making flower beds in Janie's yard and seeding the garden for her. Chopping down that tree she never did like by the dining room window. All those signs of possession."

This passage is interesting because the position of narration is ambiguous. Who believes that these events of courtship are signs of possession? Is this Pheoby's thought? Is it the voice of the community as a whole? Is it Janie's thought? Passages like this one are good examples of free indirect discourse. One possible explanation is that it is the opinion of the community that these different events in the courtship are "signs of possession." Ironically, however, Janie would never perceive the events of her courtship as signs of Tea Cake's possession of her. Since her voice permeates the narration, it seems like she is commenting, ironically, on the community's perception of her affairs. However, it also unclear whether Tea Cake possesses Janie, or Janie possesses Tea Cake.