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Free Study Guide-Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston-Free
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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

When Janie returns to Eatonville, the whole town seems to turn out to watch her walk down the street by herself and up to her own house. She had disappeared some years before, with a young man named Tea Cake. The townspeople wonder why he has not returned with her. In fact, the town is viciously curious, but only Pheoby Watson cares enough about Janie to go and visit her, bringing some dinner and lending a friendly ear. Janie decides to tell her friend Pheoby the whole story of her life.

Janie's story begins in the backyard of her grandmother's white employers, where she realizes she is darker-skinned than the white children she has always lived around. Janie has lived a conservative childhood, for she is being raised by her protective and traditional grandmother. When her grandmother sees her kissing a local boy over the garden fence, she grows worried about Janie's future and marries her off to an older neighbor, Logan Killicks, a man with property who can "protect" her. The marriage is not happy for Janie.

Her grandmother dies, and after a short time, Janie escapes from Logan. She marries Joe Starks, and they go to live at a new black settlement called Eatonville. Joe is an ambitious man. He becomes mayor of the new town, opens a store, builds a big white house, and runs the post office. He wants Janie to act like the wife of an important man, just as he directs. He also wants her to run the store and obey his other commands. Janie, however, wants to live like the other townsfolk, who talk and laugh on their porches and are involved in social events. Although Janie puts up with Joe's mistreatment, life is not pleasant for her. One day after almost twenty years of marriage, Joe humiliates her once again in front of people in the store and she stands up for herself for the first time. Janie tells him a thing or two about his aging self. As a result, Joe shuts her out of his life. Joe soon becomes ill, but still refuses to speak to Janie. One day, when she feels she can take it no longer, Janie burst s into his sick room and tells him what has been wrong with their marriage. Joe looks away from her and dies.

Although the town expects her to be in mourning, Janie feels free of a heavy weight and begins to live her life with her own thoughts. Although she is a wealthy widow, she still tends the store. She also has plenty of suitors, but none she likes; she thinks they are boring and eager for her money. One day, while the whole town is away at a ball game, a stranger comes by the store and ends up joking and talking to Janie. The young man, whose name is Tea Cake, teaches her to play checkers and generally makes her feel like a regular person with a playful heart. Although Janie is very cautious of his attentions and their age difference, he keeps coming around and taking her out. He finally declares that he loves her and wants to marry her. They leave town, get married, and start a very different sort of life for Janie.


Tea Cake is a gambler and a good-timer. At first he is reluctant to take Janie into the society of his friends, but she convinces him that she wants to live life beside him, not as a possession. Joe agrees. One day they go down to "the muck" to pick green beans, live in a shanty, play music and dance, and have a good time. Trouble arrives when one of Janie's questionable friends wants to hook her up with her brother. Though Janie has no intention of doing so, Tea Cake beats her to show the world who is boss. Janie is hurt, but remains silent about the beating. When a hurricane threatens "the muck", Tea Cake refuses to leave. Then the dam of a nearby lake collapses, and the couple has to run for their lives. During their exhausting escape, Janie is swept into a deep stream of moving water and tries to save herself by holding onto a cow who is swimming the current. Unfortunately, the cow also has a mad dog on its back. The dog threatens to attack Janie and bites Tea Cake when he comes to her rescue.

After surviving the storm, Janie and Tea Cake stay in Palm Beach so he can recover. Before he is well, he decides they should go back to the muck. There he gets progressively sicker. Janie calls in a doctor, who gives her the bad news: Tea Cake has rabies and will probably not survive. She tells the doctor that money is no object, and he says he will try to locate some medicine and bring it soon. The next day, however, Tea Cake grows progressively more paranoid and attacks Janie with a pistol. She knows that he does not know what he doing and is in terrible pain. She shoots him and holds him as he dies. The people of the muck turn against her.

Janie is immediately tried for murder by an all-white jury and judge. Fortunately, the white doctor comes to her defense, telling about Tea Cake's illness and how Janie cared for him. Janie then tells the court about her love for Tea Cake. She is set free. After having a funeral for Tea Cake, she leaves the much and then walks home to Eatonville. Her arrival in town is where the story begins.

Sitting on her porch with Pheoby, Janie takes her tired feet from a warm pan of water and tells her friend that she has her permission to tell her story to all the curious folks in town. Janie feels she has nothing to hide; she has loved, been loved, and dared to really live life. Pheoby is impressed by the story and admires Janie's determination. After Pheoby leaves, Janie shuts up her house and goes to bed, thinking about Tea Cake. Her life is peaceful.

After surviving the storm, Janie and Tea Cake stay in Palm Beach so he can recover. Before he is well, he decides they should go back to the muck. There he gets progressively sicker. Janie calls in a doctor, who gives her the bad news: Tea Cake has rabies and will probably not survive. She tells the doctor that money is no object, and he says he will try to locate some medicine and bring it soon. The next day, however, Tea Cake grows progressively more paranoid and attacks Janie with a pistol. She knows that he does not know what he doing and is in terrible pain. She shoots him and holds him as he dies. The people of the muck turn against her.

Janie is immediately tried for murder by an all-white jury and judge. Fortunately, the white doctor comes to her defense, telling about Tea Cake's illness and how Janie cared for him. Janie then tells the court about her love for Tea Cake. She is set free. After having a funeral for Tea Cake, she leaves the much and then walks home to Eatonville. Her arrival in town is where the story begins.

Sitting on her porch with Pheoby, Janie takes her tired feet from a warm pan of water and tells her friend that she has her permission to tell her story to all the curious folks in town. Janie feels she has nothing to hide; she has loved, been loved, and dared to really live life. Pheoby is impressed by the story and admires Janie's determination. After Pheoby leaves, Janie shuts up her house and goes to bed, thinking about Tea Cake. Her life is peaceful.

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