Their Eyes Were Watching God | Study Guide

Zora Neale Hurston

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Their Eyes Were Watching God | Chapter 12 | Summary



Janie and Tea Cake attend the Sunday School picnic together, which upsets the townspeople. People in Eatonville think it is too soon for Janie to be with another man since Joe Starks has only been dead nine months, and they don't approve of Tea Cake because they feel he doesn't have enough class to be with the mayor's widow. Ironically, Eatonville's residents vehemently disapprove of all the activities that are earmarks of a healthy relationship: Janie and Tea Cake spend time together doing chores, going to the movies, playing checkers, and so on.

One night Sam Watson talks to his wife about the budding romance. Sam figures that Tea Cake is going to spend all of Janie's money, but Pheoby believes that Janie knows what she is doing. Even so, Pheoby agrees to go talk with her friend at her husband's request.

As the two friends talk, Janie convinces Pheoby that she is willing to take a chance with Tea Cake because she loves him. According to Janie, they plan to sell the store, get married, and start over somewhere else where people can't compare Tea Cake with Joe Starks. After their conversation, Janie asks Pheoby to keep the news of her impending marriage quiet for now. Janie hints that it won't be long before she marries and leaves town.


Throughout this chapter, it is obvious that Janie has matured enough to make sound decisions. She is more self-assured, confident, and in control of her life. She knows what she wants and is willing to fight for it. As she tells Pheoby, having lived Nanny's way, "now Ah means tuh live" my way. While Janie followed Nanny's wishes by marrying Logan Killicks and then her own wishes by running off with Joe Starks, men who both provided her with material comforts, they both ultimately failed to satisfy Janie emotionally. The fact that she's willing to sell the store—threatening that very security—is an indication of her commitment to living as she wants.

The theme of independence—and Janie's longing for it—becomes prevalent in her marriage to Starks. While married to Starks, Janie was not allowed to play games or attend town events. Once she meets Tea Cake, Janie starts to enjoy herself as she learns how to do new things. Tea Cake, who serves as a foil for Starks, a character with contrasting traits, encourages Janie to be independent and live life more fully. This support makes Janie extremely happy. Chapter 12 also amplifies the theme of love. As Janie finds in Tea Cake what she's been looking for, she begins to blossom. As she explains to Pheoby, she has been looking for someone different from Starks, who would let her experience life. Janie recalls that when she sat quietly, as Joe Starks expected her to do, she felt the "walls creepin' up on me and squeezin' all de life outa me." This expression gives a new dimension to the silence and speaking motif. Silence is not only a stifling of true voice, but it is also deadly.

Eatonville's citizens exercise judgment toward Janie and her decision to spend time with Tea Cake—though they made no objection when other men tried to make advances toward her. They gossip about her and express their disapproval. Even Pheoby, Janie's best friend, weighs in on Janie's romance. Janie dismisses these criticisms though; she has matured to the point where she can understand and accept how others may view her while still maintaining a clear focus on what she needs and wants.

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