Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Satisfied with their lifestyle at the end of the harvest season, Janie and Tea Cake decide to remain in the muck and wait until next year. At this time, Janie becomes friends with her neighbor Mrs. Turner, a black woman with a notably awkward posture and gait. During one of her visits at Janie's home, Mrs. Turner encourages Janie to meet her brother, emphasizing his intellect and straight hair. After referring to her brother as "uh white folks nigger," Mrs. Turner tells Janie that she wishes Janie and her brother could be a couple, simply because Mrs. Turner appreciates their lighter skin and yearns to "lighten up the race."
Mrs. Turner's racism against black people is hypocritical, as she herself is black, and speaks to the general absurdity of racism as a system of values. Furthermore, Mrs. Turner's suggestion that Janie and her brother meet, simply because of their shared trait of light skin, is completely superficial, indicating the general superficiality and lack of substance that belies racist attitudes: it is a system of ideas built upon nothing other than the desire to put others down in order to empower oneself.
Themes
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
When Janie returns inside to Tea Cake, she realizes that Tea Cake has heard her entire conversation with Mrs. Turner. Tea Cake expresses his hatred for Mrs. Turner, angered by her presumptuous invitation that Janie meet her brother. Tea Cake plans to reprimand Mr. Turner for his wife's rude behavior, but feels instinctively bad for Mr. Turner upon seeing him on the street: Mr. Turner appears to be a sad, exhausted man with a "lungless laugh," powerless against his wife's domineering nature.
Tea Cake's ability to express his hatred for Mrs. Turner to Janie shows the extent of honesty in their relationship. Mr. Turner's pathetic demeanor and powerlessness indirectly calls attention to Mrs. Turner's need for pathological self-empowerment through putting others down in other areas of her life, and that it is not simply an issue of race.
Themes
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
After telling Janie that talking to Mr. Turner won't change Mrs. Turner's behavior toward her, Tea Cake instructs Janie simply to act coldly toward Mrs. Turner so that she realizes she is unwelcome in their home. However, Mrs. Turner is seduced by Janie's light skin, straight hair, and higher class manners – all things that she worships as "Janie's Caucasian characteristics." Janie describes Mrs. Turner as a "believer," who "had built an altar to the unattainable – Caucasian characteristics for all." Even though Mrs. Turner clearly objects to Tea Cake and Janie's marriage, they learn to tune her out. As the summer ends, the harvest season begins and Janie and Tea Cake prepare to be busier once again, no longer as vulnerable to the annoying disturbances of Mrs. Turner.
Mrs. Turner's particular self-created hierarchy shows that racism in general is not something that can stand alone and be accepted as inherently true at face value. Instead, it is a set of ideas that is created by humans to make one side feel higher and the other lower, but has no connection to truth or reality. Mrs. Turner's obsession with whiteness is not unlike Jody's obsession with power, as both characters seek a way of finding power and seniority in societal organization.
Themes
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon