Their Eyes Were Watching God | Study Guide

Zora Neale Hurston

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Their Eyes Were Watching God | Chapter 19 | Summary

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Summary

The chapter begins with an image of Death, "Him-with-the-square toes." While Janie and Tea Cake have escaped from death, many did not. Tea Cake is restless, so he goes out to survey the damage and looks around for something to do. Two white men with guns force him to help clean up debris from the storm, search for bodies, and help bury the dead. The white bodies are put in coffins, but black ones are buried in mass graves. Tea Cake runs away from the white men because he is worried about Janie being left alone. They decide to leave Palm Beach and return to the Everglades, where they feel safer being with blacks and whites they know.

Back in the muck, Tea Cake discovers friends who survived the storm, including Motor Boat. Tea Cake tells Janie there is plenty of work cleaning up storm damage and rebuilding the dike at Lake Okeechobee. After three weeks, Tea Cake buys a second rifle and a pistol, and he and Janie go target shooting. Four weeks after returning, Tea Cake becomes very ill. Janie brings a doctor to look at him, and he says Tea Cake has rabies, which he was infected with when bitten by the dog. The doctor recommends that Janie put Tea Cake in the county hospital, but she prepares to care for him herself.

While Janie goes to see if the medicine the doctor ordered has arrived, she asks Sop-de-Bottom and Dockery to visit Tea Cake. Paranoid and delusional, Tea Cake believes that Janie has left to meet Mrs. Turner's brother. After Janie puts his mind at ease, she and Tea Cake talk sweetly with one another. Then Janie discovers a pistol under her husband's pillow.

The next day Tea Cake seems worse. When he goes to the outhouse, Janie checks the chambers of the pistol to see if it is loaded. She makes sure the first three are empty and then takes the ammunition out of the rifle. Tea Cake returns; rabies makes him violent, and he tries to shoot Janie. Since the first three chambers of the pistol are empty, Janie has enough time to load the rifle again as Tea Cake is firing. The couple shoots one another at the same time. Tea Cake misses Janie's head, but Janie's shot hits the mark. Janie catches Tea Cake as he falls, and he bites her arm before dying.

The very same day, Janie is taken to jail and then tried. Dr. Simmons and Janie testify, and a white jury finds Janie not guilty. Janie buries Tea Cake with a new guitar in West Palm Beach, where he would be safe from any more storms.

Analysis

The dramatic, disturbing events that unfold in Chapter 19 delve deeper into the theme of independence. Throughout the novel, Janie has been searching for love and acceptance as well as independence and the opportunity to shape her own life. She finally finds love and acceptance, but the man she loves so deeply is taken away from her as a result of a series of cruel twists of fate. As a result of that loss, Janie becomes independent at last, but she must go on without Tea Cake.

Chapter 19 develops the theme of race further. In Palm Beach, Tea Cake encounters white men who force him to work, while Janie encounters black-on-black racism at her trial. Unexpectedly, "white friends who had realized her feelings" support Janie; black friends and neighbors, on the other hand, turn against her. The trial and these attitudes highlight the irrationality of racism. The segregated legal system puts Janie at the mercy of a white judge and jury. When Sop-de-Bottom tries to add his voice to the evidence against Janie, the prosecutor shuts him up—African Americans, in court, are to be silent. Janie's lawyer, who is also white, does call her to the stand, and she tells her version of the story.

Janie's trial is a further exploration of the theme of judgment. Tea Cake's friends from the Everglades watch the proceedings "with their tongues cocked and loaded." They believe Janie deserves to be punished. On the other hand, the whites at the trial, and the all-white jury, find Janie had no choice but to act as she did. The judgment that Janie fears is not a guilty verdict, though. She wants to tell her story so that everyone will realize how she and Tea Cake loved one another and the fact that she could never have killed him "out of malice." The shame of her situation would only be if people believed the lie that she had wanted to kill him. While the acquittal results in her freedom, another judgment that is more important to her comes at the end of the chapter. Sop-de-Bottom and Tea Cake's other friends come from the Everglades to attend the funeral at Janie's invitation. Their judgment of the situation has changed now. They understand her and want her to forget their earlier views. Janie's testimony had the desired result; even her most vocal critics accept that she did not want to kill Tea Cake.

The funeral motif also appears in the chapter. Like Joe Starks's elaborate funeral in Chapter 9, Tea Cake's funeral procession includes ten sedans and a band. The difference between the funerals is that Janie truly does grieve for Tea Cake, yet she only pretended to grieve for Joe Starks. She had dressed in impressive mourning clothes when Starks was buried. For Tea Cake's funeral, she wears her overalls—honest work clothes reflecting her deep, honest grief.

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