Tea Cake (2024)

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Vergible Woods, known as Tea Cake, is the third husband of Janie Crawford, the protagonist of Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). He is a troubadour, a traveling bluesman dedicated to aesthetic and joyful pursuits, and he presents a vivid contrast to Janie's second husband, Joe Starks, a politician and businessman. Tea Cake is, as his name implies, a veritable man of nature or natural man, who seems at ease being who and what he is. Unlike Joe, Tea Cake has no desire to be a “big voice.” Tea Cake and Janie engage in small talk and invent variations of traditional courtship rituals. They play checkers, fish by moonlight, and display their affection freely. An unselfish lover, Tea Cake delights in Janie's pleasure. Janie soon concludes that Tea Cake “could be a bee to a blossom–a pear tree blossom in the spring.” Despite the disapproval of her neighbors, she marries this man several years younger than she whose only worldly possession is a guitar. She travels with him to the “muck,” where they both work in the field and share household chores.

Though their romance is idyllic, Tea Cake is not a completely idealized character. When he feels their relationship is threatened, he beats Janie. But at the novel's climax, he saves her life during a hurricane. Later, having contracted rabies, he attacks his wife. Janie kills him in self-defense. In the epilogue, Janie cherishes Tea Cake's memory; not only her lover, he has been a cultural mentor and spiritual guide.

Cheryl A. Wall


Reference entries
Tea Cake

in The Concise Oxford Companion to African American LiteratureLength: 261 words

Tea Cake (2024)


What does Tea Cake do with the $200? ›

Tea cake steals $200 from the inside of Janie's shirt where it was pinned. He took it to find some fish for dinner but got so excited with how much money he had he ended up spending it on a macaroni dinner and a party.

What does Phoebe say about Tea Cake? ›

Phoebe Watson: If that Tea Cake ever shows his behind in Eatonville again, he'll wish he hadn't. He knew you had just lost Joe, so he took advantage of you and your money.

Why does Janie trust Tea Cake enough to let him help her shut up the store and walk her home? ›

Why does Janie trust Tea Cake enough to let him help her to shut up the store and walk home? She thinks she needs to keep an eye on him. He convinces her that he is a "good fella".

What are Janie's doubts about dating Tea Cake? ›

Janie is concerned that Tea Cake is only inviting her to be polite. Tea Cake assures Janie that she is the only one for him. As a result of her two unhappy marriages, Janie is reluctant to build a relationship with Tea Cake, especially since Janie is considerably older than Tea Cake.

What happens to Tea Cake while he is trying to get Janie's money back? ›

Tea Cake then promises to reimburse Janie. He claims to be a great gambler and goes off Saturday night to play dice and cards. Again, he disappears for a while and Janie frets. Around daybreak he returns.

Why did Tea Cake hit Janie? ›

Tea Cake begins to identify Janie as his possession. Because he feels threatened after Janie meets Mrs. Turner's brother, he strikes his wife to reassure himself that Janie belongs to him and no one else.

What was Tea Cake diagnosed with? ›

Tea Cake's case of rabies is an extension of the force of nature that victimized him and Janie (and other humans) during the hurricane. After contracting the disease, Tea Cake loses his physical strength, and, by extension, his sense of command over himself, Janie, and the rest of the world.

How does Tea Cake feel about Mrs Turner? ›

Tea Cake makes fun of Mrs. Turner behind her back because she has a strange figure, but Mrs. Turner is proud of her Caucasian lips, nose, and buttocks. She is drawn to Janie because Janie also has Caucasian features.

What is Tea Cake insecure about? ›

- Tea Cake begins to express insecurity about being able to provide for and protect Janie but Janie dismisses him and expresses her love.

Who ripped off Mrs. Tyler? ›

Annie Tyler is the infamous widow of Eatonville, who was cheated and left by her younger lover Who Flung.

Why does Tea Cake stay when many are warning him to leave? ›

Tea Cake's refusal to leave the muck in the face of the storm (despite the warnings from nature) highlights his excessive pride in his own physical strength as well as his emphasis on a fun-loving approach to life. Janie simply accepts this decision—she has no voice in it at all, and does not attempt to have one.

Why did the town disapprove of Tea Cake? ›

Answer & Explanation. The first line of the novel's second chapter refers to the town's growing awareness of Janie's relationship with a younger man, Tea Cake. The town is upset because Janie has left her husband, Jody Starks, for Tea Cake and the town sees this as a rejection of their societal norms and expectations.

What does Tea Cake's death symbolize? ›

The moment of Tea Cake's death, though horrible for Janie to endure, reflects how much she has grown as a person and how secure she has become. Although Tea Cake means everything to her, she is able to kill him to save herself.

What is the symbolism of Tea Cake combing her hair? ›

As he combs her hair, Tea Cake expresses his fear that Janie is disgusted by him and that she wants him to leave. Janie consoles Tea Cake not by effusively revealing her feelings for him, but instead by reassuring him that they are friends.

Did Janie truly love Tea Cake? ›

They are able to resolve these class differences when Janie reveals to Tea Cake that she wants to be with him, no matter where he is or who his friends are. Yet again, Janie realizes her powerful love for Tea Cake, especially after his absence and his injuries. She feels a "self-crushing" love for her husband.

Why did Janie decide to bring $200 with her but hide it from Tea Cake? ›

Why does Janie keep two hundred dollars hidden inside her shirt? Janie keeps two hundred dollars hidden in her shirt because Pheoby cautioned her to have something in case Tea Cake runs off and leaves her with nothing but the clothes on her back.

How much money does Tea Cake bring back? ›

He won everyone's money, $322, and one of the men got really angry and cut him. Tea Cake cut the man in defense. Janie tells him about the $1200 she has in the bank, but he says he doesn't want her money. Whatever he makes will be fine for them to live on.

What does Tea Cake do at Mrs Turner's restaurant? ›

Turner's restaurant, where Tea Cake and his crowd are eating. They get rowdy and a fight breaks out. Tea Cake tries to throw the two out and get on Mrs. Turner's good side, but his efforts only lead to further havoc.

What has happened to Tea Cake? ›

But at the novel's climax, he saves her life during a hurricane. Later, having contracted rabies, he attacks his wife. Janie kills him in self-defense. In the epilogue, Janie cherishes Tea Cake's memory; not only her lover, he has been a cultural mentor and spiritual guide.


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