Their Eyes Were Watching God | Study Guide

Zora Neale Hurston

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Their Eyes Were Watching God | Chapter 17 | Summary



When new migrant workers arrive for the season, some of the men flirt with Janie, and some of the women flirt with Tea Cake. Mrs. Turner makes good on her promise to introduce her brother to Janie, making Tea Cake so upset that he slaps his wife around. Sop-de-Bottom asks Tea Cake about it, and when Tea Cake tells him, he approves of Tea Cake's actions. Sop-de-Bottom also approves of Tea Cake's proposed boycott of Mrs. Turner's restaurant.

One Saturday night Tea Cake and his fellow workers are out on the town drinking and go to Mrs. Turner's restaurant to eat. When Coodemay and Dick Sterrett turn up later and there are no seats available, they start a drunken brawl. Tea Cake seems to try to break up the fight, but he only makes things worse. The restaurant is trashed, and Mrs. Turner decides to return to Miami, where, she says, people are better behaved. On Monday, Coodemay and Sterrett return to apologize and each give Mrs. Turner five dollars.


This chapter continues to give the reader a sense of the complex relationships among characters in the novel. Tea Cake's unexpected outburst of domestic violence mirrors Joe Starks's abuse of Janie and shows that Tea Cake feels insecure and vulnerable in his marriage and his status as a black man. The central incident in this chapter suggests that Tea Cake may be becoming more like Killicks and Starks. Is the love that Janie found with him doomed to fall into the same pattern as her marriage to Joe Starks?

The matter of gender relations touches on the theme of gender identity. The males seem to need to control the women. When Tea Cake talks to Sop-de-Bottom about when he hit Janie, the latter approves of the fact that the bruises he gave her show so that everyone can see them. He complains that when he beat the woman he was with, she would fight back and also made a lot of noise and complained. The men want the women to be submissive.

Tea Cake's behavior in this chapter is also tied to the theme of race. Tea Cake feels threatened by Mrs. Turner because she is "color-struck." He is also angry with her for sending her brother after Janie. Other friends of his disapprove of Mrs. Turner's attitude toward blackness and her judgment of their behavior. Powerless to change how he looks, Tea Cake resorts to violence as a way to "show dem Turners who is boss."

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