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Free Study Guide-Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston-Free
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Chapters 13-15

Summary (continued)

Around daybreak, Tea Cake returns, cut up and bleeding, but he has won back Janie's money and more. Janie dresses his wounds while he tells the story of a man who could not quit betting against him. The more the man lost, the madder he grew. The man finally jumped Tea Cake and cut him with a razor, but Tea Cake got him back. Janie cries. Then Tea Cake gives her two hundred dollars and tells her to put it in the bank, for he needs no help to feed and clothe his woman. He promises that when he is healed, they will go down to the muck, where cane and beans are raised, saying they will have fun there. As Tea Cake drifts off to sleep, Janie watches him and feels a "self-crushing love;" in the process, her "soul crawled out from its hiding place."

When Tea Cake is better, he heads to the muck with Janie, as promised. The Everglades, Lake Okechobee, the beans, and the sugar cane are all huge to her. She has never seen such fertile, deep black, rich soil. Since they arrive before planting season, they get a house near one of Okechobee's dikes, and Tea Cake gets a good position. Other people come, Indians wander through, and the planting is done. Janie and Tea Cake leisurely pass their time, going fishing and waiting for picking season. Tea Cake decides they should go hunting. When he teaches Janie to use a gun, she becomes an excellent shot. Janie and Tea Cake bring in lots of game and sell alligator parts in Palm Beach.

People start arriving for picking season; they are mostly poor and broken itinerant workers taking up every available space. The joints are filled up every night with drinkers, singers, and fighters. There seems to be plenty of money and love. Outrageous prices are exacted, but these people spend their money easily, living for today and not worrying about tomorrow.


Janie's life on the muck is never dull. At first the people had thought she was stuck up, but soon they see she acts like one of them. During work hours, Tea Cake is always popping in to see how his wife is doing, so she decides to go to work with him. He assures her that he wants to take care of her, and she assures him that she likes to work with him and to love him. "Tea Cake's house was a magnet." People gather round while he plays guitar, and Janie makes big pans of baked beans, maybe dessert, or rabbit if she has been hunting. People come to gamble on their porch, and generally it reminds Janie of Eatonville, except more fun. The muck people may be "rough," but they know how to enjoy life and include everyone.

Then Janie learns about jealousy. A young girl, Nunkie, starts hanging around Tea Cake out in the fields. She teases him, finds excuses to be near him, and generally gets too close. Other folks begin to notice the Nunkie episodes. One day Janie finds the two of them off 'struggling' in the cane and is furious; she yells at them and chases the girl away. Tea Cake finds Janie at home and tries to talk, but she lashes out at him. As he fends off her blows, they tumble from room to room, but Tea Cake will not let go of her hands. They struggle on until their bodies take over, working it out in embrace. The next morning Janie asks Tea Cake if he loves Nunkie; even though she believes he does not want Nunkie, she wants to hear his denial. Tea Cake says a woman like Nunkie is nothing compared to his amazing Janie.

Notes

In these three chapters, Janie's new life with Tea Cake is established. She leaves Eatonville with some doubts about Tea Cake, as shown in the hidden two-hundred dollars. Her doubts begin to subside as she takes up a wild new life that has her emotions working full throttle for the first time in her life. She writes her friend Phoeby that everything is great. But everything is not perfect. Tea Cake takes her two hundred dollars, reveals he is a gambler, gets stabbed and comes home bleeding, and has an adventure with Nunkie. In spite of these failings, Janie loves Tea Cake dearly and prays he will never leave her to become a Mrs. Tyler. She feels she is really living for the first time. Her new husband has finally caused her pear tree to blossom.

Hurston clearly establishes dramatic irony in these chapters when she portrays the life on the "muck" as much more pleasant than any Janie has known previously. The poor, itinerant workers live a life much more satisfying, fun, and "honest" than the proper and materialistic townspeople of Eatonville. The fun-and-frolic portrayed in this section of the novel is precisely what writers of the Harlem Renaissance, like Richard Wright, objected to in Hurston's writing; they resented her portrayal of the Negro as happy- go-lucky, for they felt Black literature should protest such images and uplift the race. More recently, this part of Their Eyes Were Watching God has been judged in feminist terms. Janie is to be respected, for she knows what she wants. She is happy to be included in picking work, for her goal has always been to really live beside her mate in all events and feel loved by him.

The dialogue between Janie and Tea Cake shows how imaginative they are in their relationship. They truly enjoy one another, as they fish, hunt, play cards, and have sex. Janie even goes to the fields with him to work, for she wants to stay near him. It also allows her to keep an eye on Tea Cake. When she sees him being pursued by Nunkie, Janie is not afraid to interrupt and chase her away. Janie is not about to easily lose the man she has waited so long to find. In the bedroom, she convinces Tea Cake of her value.

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