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Janie Crawford (Killicks, Starks, Woods)
Janie is an attractive black woman and the protagonist of the novel. As a female looking for fulfillment, she learns to live according to her values, refusing to be defined by others. She was born an only child and abandoned by her mother. Janie was raised by Nanny, her grandmother and an ex-slave, who greatly influences her thinking. As she grows up, she is often left to her own devices, which gives her time to dream and escape her humdrum existence. As a teenager she is confident in her ability to assess her world; but when her life becomes a series of situations that she does not feel connected to, she tries living by the values of others. She marries Logan Killicks to please her grandmother, who wants Janie to have security above all things. When she abandons Logan, Janie marries Joe Starks and begins to live by his values. It is not until Tea Cake comes along that she truly finds her place in the world and feels happy.
Early in the novel, Hurston reveals that Janie does not live for wealth or security. She wants something else from life; she wants to have her pear tree shake and shiver with joy. Janie never loves Logan, her first husband, and although Joe Starks offers her a new "horizon," he is not the partner she has dreamed of either. Unfortunately, her first two husbands both consider Janie as property to be used as they see fit. When she meets Tea Cake, she feels that he values her as a living, breathing person, an equal companion. He is not overbearing, but shares life with her. Living with Tea Cake on the muck, she becomes her very own person for the very first time.
When Janie and Tea Cake face the hurricane and must run for their lives, they both work to help each other. When Tea Cake falls ill, Janie acts in accordance with the devout love she feels; she nurses him and tells the doctor she will pay for any care that might help him. Even though he is out of his mind with the rabies and tries to kill her, she understands who her companion really is and feels immense gratitude for the life he has given her. When she returns to Eatonville after Tea Cake's death, she is sad but not beaten. She is surrounded by warm memories of Tea Cake, which she can pull around her. Janie, at the end of the novel, is a fulfilled black woman who knows herself and who plans to live according to her own values.
Janie's friend is the perfect listener. A resident of Eatonville, she is set aside from the other town gossips by her high regard for Janie. She is sympathetic to Janie's life and wants to hear her story, not for the satisfaction of hearing a tragedy, but because she understands that Janie has something to offer. When Janie finishes her tale, Phoeby says that she feels ten feet taller from hearing about her friend's life. She says she is going to make Sam, her husband, take her fishing, so she can have some fun in life, like Janie.
Throughout the story, Phoeby is the one female friend Janie can count on. They often visit with one another and even go fishing together. When Joe Starks dies, Phoeby tries to set her up with a friend, an undertaker. Janie, however, has had enough of death and wants no part of Phoeby's undertaker friend. Phoeby understands. Although she is not certain that Janie should go off with Tea Cake, she feels that Janie is old enough and wise enough to know what she wants. She is also a faithful friend who is willing to defend Janie against the town gossips. Phoeby proves her faithfulness when she is the only one who comes to visit Janie when she returns to Eatonville.