Their Eyes Were Watching God (2024)

Summary and Analysis Chapter 19

Summary

Janie and Tea Cake make it to safety in Palm Beach and survive, but Tea Cake is soon pressed into service by rifle-carrying white men who need him to help clear the wreckage and bury the dead. He and the other workers are instructed about the necessity of separating the bodies of white victims from the black corpses. The whites are to be buried in hastily constructed pine boxes; the blacks are just buried. As soon as Tea Cake has an opportunity to flee, he does so.

Janie is sincerely appreciative of her husband's efforts to save her life, and she urges him to see a doctor about the dog bite. Tea Cake refuses, insisting that, first of all, they need to find a place to rest. Janie is proud of his heroism, and he wants her to know that she has a real man to take care of her. Shortly thereafter, they decide to go back to the muck. Tea Cake has had enough of Palm Beach; the city is too inhospitable.

Back on the muck, Tea Cake checks up on his old friends and is relieved to learn that only one of them died in the storm. He soon finds work, and after three weeks, he and Janie take time off to enjoy rifle shooting. Some time later, Tea Cake begins to show signs of an infection where the dog bit him on the cheek. Janie tries to take care of him, but as his illness progresses, he becomes more difficult. His inability to swallow water frightens both of them. Janie leaves to fetch Doctor Simmons, a white doctor, for her desperately ill husband, but it is too late. The doctor will be able to get the serum, but nothing can help Tea Cake now.

In the fury of his illness, he struggles with Janie. Hopelessly deranged, he suddenly threatens her with the six-shooter, and she defends herself with the rifle. His pistol and her rifle fire simultaneously. Tea Cake falls forward and buries his teeth in Janie's forearm, as she catches him. Later, Janie must endure a brief trial, but she is freed. Afterward, she must arrange his funeral. She gives Tea Cake a glorious send-off, burying him in Palm Beach. This time there is real mourning for the dead.

Analysis

For the second time in the novel, Hurston hints at the occurrence of racism. All of the white people who died in the hurricane will be buried in coffins, while the black people will just be buried. The guards instructing Tea Cake on how to bury the dead explain that the coffins are "too hard tuh git holt of right now" to be wasted on the bodies of the deceased blacks. Tea Cake is troubled by the double standard created by the intolerant guards. With his first opportunity, Tea Cake escapes, and he confides to Janie that they must leave immediately because he "don't mean tuh work lak dat no mo'."

As Tea Cake becomes seriously ill, Janie reflects on the rabid dog that caused her husband's illness. Somehow she doesn't find Tea Cake's fate fair, as he was just trying to protect her when the dog bit him. Watching her husband die, Janie says, is too much for her to bear, and she wishes that the dog had killed her instead. Janie questions and pleads with God, wondering why "Tea Cake, the son of Evening Sun, had to die for loving her."

While Tea Cake's funeral is similar to Joe's in that they both were given a distinguished farewell, one aspect remains different. This time Janie does not wear traditional mourning attire to the service; rather, she wears her overalls, clothing that she associates with her husband. Tea Cake's awful death devastates Janie, and she confesses that "she was too busy feeling grief to dress like grief." In contrast to Joe's funeral, Janie does not look like a widow at Tea Cake's funeral, but she certainly feels the sorrow and the pain of being one.

Glossary

Tryin' not to keep you outa yo' comfortable no longer'n you wanted to stay In other words, I don't want to keep you here in this uncomfortable place any longer than you want to stay. Earlier in the novel, Tea Cake wanted to comb Janie's hair, and she referred to it as her "comfortable," not his. "Comfortable" would be a unique personal possession.

Give it uh poor man's trial A poor man takes any respectable job he can get and does his best with it.

uh common trial similar to the definition above. Just to be working, Tea Cake will take any job available.

de Jim Crow law These are laws associated with traditional discrimination against or segregation of blacks, especially in the United States.

trouble and compellment Tea Cake is troubled by the white guards forcing him — compelling him — to help bury the dead.

motherless chile Tea Cake is out of his element. He feels as though he doesn't belong to anyone, like a child in slavery sold away from its mother. The song "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is often included in collections of spirituals.

Six months behind de United States privy house at hard smellin' The reference is to a privy, a toilet, especially an outhouse, which has a thoroughly obnoxious smell if it hasn't been properly maintained. This is Tea Cake's metaphor for being tossed into a federal jail and put to hard work.

bucked each other beat and/or challenged each other.

quart of coon-dick cheap moonshine or bootleg whiskey.

lap-legged brother a suggestion that Mrs. Turner's brother's legs are malformed and not straight — clearly, an insult.

watchin' de job watching and waiting for Tea Cake to die.

relic Janie is the relic, or the person who has survived, from their marriage. The word could also be an echo of the Old English term relict, which means surviving the death of another.

Their Eyes Were Watching God (2024)

FAQs

What is the message of Their Eyes Were Watching God? ›

As Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes in the afterword to most modern editions of the book, Their Eyes Were Watching God is primarily concerned “with the project of finding a voice, with language as an instrument of injury and salvation, of selfhood and empowerment.”

What does the quote "their eyes were watching God" mean? ›

Melissa Like John Jones said, it's a line in the book. It kind of shows how the hurricane is out of their control, all that they can do is wait to see what God has planned for them next. Throughout the novel, nearly everyone tries to take power away from God, but now it's a reversal, God is taking power away from them.

What does the last paragraph of Their Eyes Were Watching God mean? ›

Essays What Does the Ending Mean? Their Eyes Were Watching God concludes with Janie's self-actualization and hope for her own future. Janie finishes recounting her story to Pheoby—just as she promised she would do in the beginning—before settling into her bedroom and reflecting on Tea Cake's death.

How does Joe respond to his failing health? ›

Joe moves out of their bedroom, and as his illness progresses, he refuses to let Janie take care of him. He also stubbornly refuses to see a medical doctor, preferring instead to seek cures from quacks and charlatans.

What lesson does Their Eyes Were Watching God teach? ›

What lesson does Janie learn in Their Eyes Were Watching God? Janie learns that she has a voice and her dreams and desires are just as valid as those of the men around her. She learns that she can be happy with a partner or by herself.

What are three to five themes in the book "Their Eyes Were Watching God"? ›

Their Eyes Were Watching God Themes
  • Gender Roles and Relations. ...
  • Voice, Language and Storytelling. ...
  • Desire, Love, and Independence. ...
  • Power, Judgment, and Jealousy. ...
  • Race and Racism.

What is the metaphor of eyes were watching God? ›

One of the most powerful metaphors in the novel is the blossoming pear tree. Janie is enchanted by the beautiful tree in Nanny's backyard. As she climbs the tree and sits in its branches, Janie realizes the meaning of true love when she sees the marriage of the bees to the blossoms in the pear tree.

Why is Their Eyes Were Watching God so important? ›

Published in 1937, Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is regarded as a groundbreaking piece of literature for its exploration of the self through the eyes of Janie Crawford, a romantic, resilient Black woman navigating three marriages in the early 20th century.

What is the point of view Their Eyes Are Watching God? ›

Their Eyes Were Watching God is told from the perspective of an omniscient third-person narrator, meaning the narrator has access to the inner lives of each character. Unlike Janie and the other characters, the narrator does not speak in the informal Southern dialect.

Why did people criticize Their Eyes Were Watching God? ›

Critics also dislike the book because they misunderstand the themes of the story. There is often a focus on Janie's reliance on men and the story is misinterpreted as either a love story or a story about toxic relationships.

What do the first two paragraphs mean in Their Eyes Were Watching God? ›

That is the life of men. These are the first paragraphs of Their Eyes Were Watching God. In these opening lines, Hurston introduces a crucial idea that is carried throughout the novel: the metaphor of “ships at a distance” describes how reality is shaped differently for men and women.

Why did she write Their Eyes Were Watching God? ›

Zora Neale Hurston wrote this novel to point out race disparities during the Harlem Renaissance during this time.

Why does Janie burn her head rags? ›

In her first act of freedom following Joe's death, Janie burns her headrags to symbolize her new independence from Joe's control.

Why does Janie hate her grandmother so much? ›

She realizes, somewhat to our surprise, that she hates her grandmother for raising her according to a flawed belief system that values materialism and social status. Janie understands that while people are what matter to her, she had been raised to value things.

What does Janie's hair symbolize? ›

Hair. Janie's hair is a symbol of her power and unconventional identity; it represents her strength and individuality in three ways. First, it represents her independence and defiance of petty community standards.

What does the eyes of God symbolize? ›

Also known as the 'All-Seeing Eye' and 'Eye of Providence', the symbol has been used since the ancient times to signify the omniscience and omnipresence of God and His powerful, preserving and guarding character.

What is the author's purpose in Their Eyes Were Watching God? ›

In The Eyes are Watching God, the author Zora Neale Hurston expresses the struggles of women and black societies of the time period. When Hurston published the book, communities were segregated and black communities were full of stereotypes from the outside world.

What did Janie learn in Their Eyes Were Watching God? ›

It can be said that the greatest thing Janie has learned throughout Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God is about her true self, and part of who she is is a storyteller. From a young age, other peoples' desires for her life have been imposed on her.

References

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