Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One afternoon, Janie watches a large group of Seminole Indians steadily walk past her house and asks them where they're going. The Indians reply that they're going to higher ground, explaining that a hurricane is coming. Fear about the potential hurricane buzzes through the muck as more Indians continue pass by, and many of the other residents of the muck also begin to flee, along with a variety of animals – rabbits, possums and snakes – all feeling the winds of the impending hurricane.
The collective migration of the Seminole Indians and particularly the migration of the animals gives a clear message: nature itself (in the case of the animals and the Indians, who are "closer to nature" than the other people) is telling her and Tea Cake to get out and seek higher ground.
Themes
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
One of the local Bahaman boys invites Tea Cake and Janie a ride to get to higher ground, but Tea Cake refuses the offer and assures him that they'll be fine if they stay put. Instead, Tea Cake invites some friends over, all of whom decide to remain in the muck despite the oncoming hurricane, and they begin to celebrate – eating, singing and dancing as other town dwellers continue to flee.
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. She just trusts Tea Cake.
Themes
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Yet finally the winds kick in, awakening "the monster" in Lake Okechobee. All except one man – Motor Boat – leave Tea Cake and Janie's home to seek shelter in their own homes. The arrival of the hurricane is intensely violent, marked by "screaming wind…crashing…things hurtling and dashing with unbelievable velocity." Janie, Tea Cake and Motor Boat stand outside and take in the storm, "their eyes…watching" and "questioning God."
The scene in which Tea Cake, Janie and Motor Boat watch the violent storm embodies this chapter's overall exploration of human survival and man versus nature and God. The hurricane episode reveals the fact that all other obstacles in Janie's life – Nanny's traditional views, Logan's mistreatment, Jody's desire for control, Tea Cake's overpowering physical appeal, Mrs. Turner's racism – bear no weight against the strength of nature.
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
Race and Racism Theme Icon
As the wind slaps against them and the waters rise, Tea Cake tells Janie that he assumes she is thinking about her big house back in Eatonville and wondering why Tea Cake ever "dragged" here to the muck. Janie responds that she doesn't feel that way at all and is happy as long as they stay together. Eventually, Tea Cake, Janie and Motor Boat decide to flee to find higher ground, as the waters continue to rise and they watch "people trying to run in raging waters and screaming when they find they couldn't."
Just as Tea Cake feels threatened by the physical (sexual) threat he perceived from Mrs. Turner's brother, in the face of the storm which he now realizes is more powerful than him, he is once again insecure and thinks that Janie probably wishes she had never come with him. Janie's response is telling, too. In saying that she is happy as long as she is with Tea Cake she is both expressing the depth of her love for him (and attaining such love was always a goal for her) but also indicating just how much of her own independence she has given up to that love. Her only desire is just to be with him. She has fulfillment, but not really independence.
Themes
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon
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Janie struggles to swim in the "fighting water" as Tea Cake, too, begins to lose his strength. Tea Cake sees a cow swimming with a dog atop its back and tells her to grab onto the cow's tail for help. Yet when Janie grabs the cow's tail, the dog attempts to attack her. Immediately upon seeing Janie in danger, Tea Cake launches toward the animal, and fights the dog to its death. Unfortunately, just before its death, the dog bites Tea Cake in the cheek, leaving him one last mark of natural world destruction before he and Janie can seek shelter. The following morning, "years later by their bodies," Janie and Tea Cake reach the dilapidated remains of Palm Beach, "no place to live at all," but a place where they can recover in the meantime. Janie attributes her survival to Tea Cake, and they proceed to discuss their frightening near-death incident with the dog.
Although Tea Cake indirectly provides Janie with feelings of self-recognition and confidence in her ability to express herself over the course of their relationship at large, Tea Cake's rescue of Janie in this scene reveals the extent to which their relationship relies on physical manifestations of affection. Here, unlike in Chapter 15, Tea Cake does not comfort Janie with sex, but the episode's "resolution" is still grounded in physical terms – Tea Cake fights the dog in order to save Janie's life. Still, there is an impediment to Tea Cake's physical empowerment in this scene – being bitten by the dog – a moment which quite overtly foreshadows Tea Cake's physical downfall.
Themes
Voice, Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Power, Judgment, and Jealousy Theme Icon