Their Eyes Were Watching God | Study Guide

Zora Neale Hurston

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Their Eyes Were Watching God | Chapter 11 | Summary



Janie thinks about all the different reasons that she should not pursue a relationship with Tea Cake. He is 12 years younger than her, isn't well off, and is likely a philanderer. She resolves to treat him coldly.

Tea Cake returns to the store a week later. He plays an imaginary guitar, which amuses Janie. Then he buys two bottles of Coca Cola, one for Janie and one for himself. Janie and Tea Cake play checkers until everyone leaves the store. Sitting on the porch, Tea Cake and Janie talk until almost 11 o'clock. Rather than keeping Tea Cake at bay, Janie invites him to her house for a slice of pound cake. Tea Cake picks lemons from a tree in the yard and makes lemonade. Although it is very late, Tea Cake asks Janie to go fishing with him on the lake, and they fish until dawn.

The following day, Hezekiah warns Janie that she shouldn't spend time with Tea Cake. Janie asks why, hoping that there aren't any skeletons in Tea Cake's closet that she doesn't know about. Hezekiah's objection is merely Tea Cake's poverty.

The next night Tea Cake comes back with trout he caught. Janie fries the fish, which they eat with corn bread. Tea Cake plays the piano and sings, lulling Janie to sleep. When she wakes up, he is combing her hair. Tired, Janie heads up to bed. It is obvious that they like one another, but Janie doesn't trust Tea Cake completely, and he is afraid she thinks he's not good enough for her. Tea Cake leaves, but Janie can't stop thinking about him. She realizes that she is falling in love with him.

Two mornings later, Tea Cake brings Janie fresh strawberries. She offers to make him breakfast, but he says he must go to work. That night he returns and spends the night with Janie.

Without explanation, Tea Cake vanishes for several days. When he comes back, he is driving an old car. He tells Janie he wants to take her shopping for groceries to bring to the Sunday School picnic. Janie has trouble believing Tea Cake really wants to be with her, but he reassures her.


In Chapter 11 the love affair between Janie and Tea Cake begins in earnest. Janie acts cautiously and is filled with doubt because of her past disappointments in love. Tea Cake, in turn, must overcome his own feelings of insecurity to woo Janie. They work through their doubts and fears, and Janie embarks on the next leg of her journey to understanding herself.

This chapter advances the interconnected themes of love and independence. Through narration and dialogue, Hurston shows that Janie and Tea Cake are compatible. They are right for each other because they thoroughly enjoy one another's company. Janie believes that Tea Cake might be able to offer her the kind of love she has been looking for since she was a young woman. Unlike either Logan Killicks or Joe Starks, Tea Cake shows respect for Janie and views her as an equal partner. He does not try to change her but appreciates both her appearance and her personality. Despite their differences in age and life experience, the two characters are deeply attracted to one another. Of course, if Janie lets Tea Cake into her life, she will lose some of her independence. Her willingness to do so indicates the strength of her growing feelings for Tea Cake.

In this chapter Janie expresses her hope for the future with Tea Cake by recalling the pear tree image once again. She believes that Tea Cake might be "a bee to ... a pear tree blossom." This sensual image makes clear that Janie's attraction to Tea Cake is physical as well as emotional. This image also suggests that Janie's romance with Tea Cake heralds a new beginning for her.

The incident in which Tea Cake combs Janie's hair, a symbol of her individuality, is a telling one. This intimate act of grooming relaxes Janie and draws her closer to Tea Cake. It also represents Tea Cake's unequivocal acceptance of who Janie really is. Indeed, he seems to treasure her hair and wants to care for it, a marked contrast to Joe Starks's insistence that she cover her glorious hair with a head rag.

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