Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After Tea Cake and Janie make their first public appearance together at the town picnic, Janie becomes the object of the town's judgmental gossiping. Pheoby's husband Sam Watson speculates to his wife that Tea Cake must be using Janie for her money and that he is "draggin' de woman away from church," insinuating that Tea Cake is a criminal and a heretic. Furthermore, Sam encourages Pheoby to talk to Janie herself, telling his wife to warn Janie against becoming like Mrs. Tyler, a town widow who was swindled by her younger lover, Who Flung, following her husband's death. Pheoby listens to Sam's worries, but assures him that Janie is "her own woman" and will act as such.
The town gossip reveals the repercussions of Janie's decision to act according to her individual desires, and not the traditional norms of society. In this way, the fact that the town gossips and Janie still allows herself to be with Tea Cake, to prove to people like Pheoby Watson that she is "her own woman" marks tremendous growth for Janie in her process of finding self-expression and individual fulfillment by listening to her own desires.
Themes
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Pheoby approaches Janie and warns her of her status as the object of the town's gossip, paying particular attention to Tea Cake's low social status and the fact that Janie ought to continue mourning the death of Jody, which she has clearly stopped doing by wearing colorful clothing around town. In her new state of self-possession and happiness, Janie tells Pheoby simply that Tea Cake loves how she looks in blue, and asks Pheoby once again, "Ah ain't grievin' so why do Ah hafta mourn?" Janie listens to Pheoby's warnings, but ultimately is resolute in declaring her love for Tea Cake, saying that she plans to sell the store, after which she and Tea Cake will leave Eatonville and establish themselves in a place where they will no longer be surrounded by the town's gossip.
Pheoby's warnings to Janie distill the general gossip of Eatonville about Janie's relationship with Tea Cake, and reveal a traditional worldview of how a widow ought to act following her husband's death. Rather than fulfill the traditional views of society, Janie is comfortable expressing her happiness for the first time in the novel thus far, regardless of the repercussions. Her decision to move away from Eatonville with Tea Cake is a strong one, and yet it is also a kind of running away from the town's judgment. Janie is willing to be exposed to that judgment, but not yet to face it.
Themes
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Janie tells Pheoby that Tea Cake is not comparable to Jody Starks, and that she wants to escape the potential comparisons that might arise if she marries Tea Cake and stays in Eatonville. She concludes that her previous marriage to Jody marked a time when she lived her life according to Nanny's worldview, and that now she is ready to live her own way. When Pheoby asks her to expand upon this idea, Janie explains that Nanny's past as a slave made her prioritize wealth and status as ingredients for marriage over happiness and passion. Having married two wealthy men of high status and ending up unhappy, Janie is now ready to act according to her sense of authentically individual desire and passion – to sell the store, leave Eatonville, and marry Tea Cake. Taking Sam Watson's advice, Pheoby light-heartedly warns Janie against becoming like Mrs. Tyler, though she also expresses happiness about Janie's newfound state of joy.
Janie's reflections on Nanny reveal tremendous growth in Janie's maturity and level of self-awareness: early in the novel, Janie simply listens to Nanny's demands without knowledge of her own desires; in Chapter 9, Janie realizes her resentment toward Nanny about her traditional worldviews, but does not express any sympathy for why she might have come to feel these ways about marriage and material advancement. Here, Janie demonstrates a more empathetic understanding of why her grandmother came to be the way she was as a result of her traumatic experience as a slave. And she clearly expresses, also, her own vision for herself and the will to follow it.
Themes
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon