Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Of her three husbands (Logan Killicks and Jody Starks being the first two), Tea Cake is Janie's one and only true love throughout the novel. Twelve years younger than Janie and of much lower social status, Tea Cake appears initially as a risky candidate for marriage. However, he treats Janie with far more respect and affection than either of her other husbands, though all is not perfect in their marriage as Tea Cake at times lies and once beats Janie. Upon their meeting, Tea Cake engages Janie in lively conversation and asks her to play checkers, treating her as an equal player. Tea Cake satisfies Janie's desire for sexual fulfillment and self-expression, allowing her to arrive at the horizon at the novel's end.

Tea Cake Quotes in Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Their Eyes Were Watching God quotes below are all either spoken by Tea Cake or refer to Tea Cake. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper Perennial edition of Their Eyes Were Watching God published in 2006.
Chapter 10 Quotes

Somebody wanted her to play. Somebody thought it natural for her to play. That was even nice. She looked him over and got little thrills from every one of his good points.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Related Symbols: Checkers
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 10, Tea Cake enters Janie's store, buys a pack of cigarettes, and challenges her to a game of checkers. She feels an immediate affinity for him, the first man who has treated her as an equal. 

Hurston makes Janie's relief clear in this passage: the concise sentences and the repetition of the subject "somebody" (and the verb "play") reveal to readers Janie's state of mind, her happy amazement. Jody played checkers too, but Jody only ever asked her to "fetch" the game, never to play a game with him. This quiet moment between Tea Cake and Janie has their entire dynamic locked up within it — the playfulness, the respect, the attraction, and even the danger. (She appraises his body the way men have appraised her body throughout the novel.) Tea Cake wins the game, but Janie reaches out to stop him and they touch for the first time.

Of course, like any game, Checkers leaves room for dishonesty and cheating. Janie knows this and articulates it, and yet it does not stop her from beginning her most fulfilling and exciting relationship. 

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Chapter 11 Quotes

He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom – a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God.

Related Characters: Tea Cake
Related Symbols: The Pear Tree
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Janie and Tea Cake spend more and more time together. One night they go fishing, and on another he plays her music and combs her hair. She finds this sudden intimacy at once confusing and refreshing. 

Here, Hurston alludes very obviously to the first pear tree passage: Janie concludes that Tea Cake could be a"bee to a blossom," fitting into her original notion of romantic love and marriage. Hurston repeats and then expands upon the word "blossom" in the second sentence, bringing Tea Cake's lushness and excess into the text itself. And she does the same thing in the third and fourth sentences, repeating the word "crushing" and then elaborating on it. All of these repetitions and fragments slow down the plot, making this moment into a sort of dream or fantasy. 

Hurston concludes this passage with the sentence: "He was a glance from God." This allusion, too, is an obvious gesture at the novel's title. Many characters are "Watchers" in Hurston's work — they watch the horizon or God or something else. But how then do we understand a character who is himself not a watcher, but a "glance?"

Chapter 13 Quotes

He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Tea Cake goes off gambling one night, only to return battered and bruised, covered in cuts. Despite his wounds, his earnings are considerable — three hundred and twenty two dollars — and this gambling prowess astonishes Janie. She watches him as he falls asleep, feeling a pure love for her new husband.

Readers might consider the verb "crush" in this passage and its relation to the earlier sentences in Chapter 11: "He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world... Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took." Does this verb, at once violent and sensual, encapsulate the relationship between Tea Cake and Janie? Hurston even elaborates on Janie's psychic state here: the violence of her "self-crushing love" opens something within her, allowing "her soul [to crawl] out from its hiding place." We're seemingly not meant to understand this paradoxical image — something crushing shut in order for something else to crawl out — but only to appreciate and feel it. The verb "crawl" also reminds us of insects, bees buzzing around a blooming tree, in yet another allusion to Janie's pear tree experience of childhood.

Chapter 15 Quotes

Janie seethed. But Tea Cake never let go. They wrestled on until they were doped with their own fumes and emanations; till their clothes had been torn away; till he hurled her to the floor and held her there melting her resistance with the heat of his body, doing things with their bodies to express the inexpressible.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Janie loves their new life in the Everglades, she soon suspects that Tea Cake has become attached to someone else, a young woman named Nunkie. When she finds them "struggling" together in the sugar cane field, she confronts Tea Cake and they resolve the dispute with their bodies. 

In this passage, violence and love are inextricable: Hurston uses the language of battle, verbs like "seethe" and "wrestle" and "hurl," to describe a sexual encounter. (We can see the heightening tension in the text itself, which features an accumulation of phrases beginning with "till.") And yet Hurston does not paint a picture of marital abuse or injustice. Unlike Jody or Logan, Tea Cake treats Janie as a relative equal, without humiliating her or manipulating her. 

Hurston also writes that Janie and Tea Cake "express the inexpressible" with their bodies. Words suddenly fail them and they must resort to another, more primal and urgent language. This raises important questions about verbal and non-verbal communication in the book — when can a character transcend language? And is this instance, in which Tea Cake has sex with Janie instead of apologizing to her or discussing her worries, an example of action actually being more problematic and confusing than language?

Chapter 17 Quotes

"Janie is wherever Ah wants tuh be. Dat's de kind uh wife she is and Ah love her for it."

Related Characters: Tea Cake (speaker), Janie Crawford
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Sop-de-Bottom praises Janie's docility, explaining to Tea Cake that most wives are far more combative. Tea Cake adds on to this praise; though he wishes to give Janie a better life, he is also glad that she "is wherever [he] wants tuh be."

While Janie's marriage to Tea Cake is certainly more fair and loving than either of her previous marriages, readers are meant to understand that it is still a complex, imperfect relationship. Tea Cake shows a certain masculine narcissism in his conversation with Sob-de-Bottom, zeroing in on his own expectations (and repeating the pronoun "Ah") rather than considering Janie's own independent needs and desires. He loves her, but he does not quite love the full, mysterious scope of her — he only loves what he can possess. Hurston reminds us again that a black women is "society's mule," even when she is a beloved wife. No romantic relationship is without its hierarchy. 

Chapter 19 Quotes

Tea Cake was lying with his eyes closed and Janie hoped he was asleep. He wasn't. A great fear had took hold of him. What was this thing that set his brains fire and grabbed at his throat with iron fingers? Where did it come from and why did it hang around him?

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Related Symbols: The Hurricane
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Tea Cake and Janie return to the muck, following the former's brief but unpleasant stint as a gravedigger. However, Tea Cake soon falls ill, having contracted rabies during the hurricane. In despair, Janie pleads with an unresponsive God. 

Tea Cake's disease is not only a direct consequence of the hurricane, but also a reminder that the young man belongs to the natural world and must abide by its laws. One lyrical rhetorical question follows another in this passage and the answer is obvious to the reader, if not to Janie and Tea Cake: nature has "set his brains fire" because of his arrogance, his refusal to heed any warning. For the first time, Tea Cake is more object than subject, the passive victim of "great fear" and "iron fingers." (Even Hurston's grammar reflects this change.)  

Hurston uses the expression "hang around" in an earlier passage too, describing Janie's fear of abandonment in Chapter 13. With this repetition in mind, readers can consider how Janie's flaws and Tea Cake's unite and separate them all at once. 

Chapter 20 Quotes

"Ah done been tuh de horizon and back and now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons. Dis house ain't so absent of things lak it used tuh be befo' Tea Cake come along. It's full uh thoughts, 'specially dat bedroom."

Related Characters: Janie Crawford (speaker), Tea Cake
Related Symbols: The Horizon
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Having wrapped up her tale, Janie tells Pheoby that she is ready to begin her life in Eatonville anew. Her experiences of the world do not torment her so much as provide her with happy memories.

In the novel's opening paragraph, Hurston describes the bleak "life of men," those who keep their eyes trained on the horizon and yet never move towards it. Janie follows her own path, however, and Hurston reintroduces the horizon in the novel's final chapter in order to differentiate these unhappy men from Janie, who has 'been tuh de horizon and back." Despite setbacks and hurricanes and abuse, Janie finds companionship and love, as well as independence. (Her use of the first person and the possessive "mah house" is especially powerful.) 

Janie tells Pheoby that her house is no longer "absent of things" — in this way, Hurston makes a sort of reflexive gesture towards the power of narrative. Janie's own life story will keep her company in the coming years. 

Of course he wasn't dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish net…She called in her soul to come and see.

Related Characters: Janie Crawford, Tea Cake
Related Symbols: The Horizon
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Janie retires for the night, yet she stays up reliving her recent memories of Tea Cake's death and the trial. She understands that Tea Cake can "never be dead" as long as she protects his memory.

This is a striking image — a person's thoughts and memories projected "against the wall" — not dissimilar from Janie's moment of anxiety in Chapter 13, when her fear makes "itself into pictures and [hangs around her bedside] all night long." In other words, Huston imagines a world in which the boundary between internal and external is porous. Readers might consider whether or not this permeability relates to the boundary between omniscient narration and dialogue in the novel.

Not only does Hurston circle back to the first chapter by way of the symbolic horizon, but she hints at an ocean in both moments, too. She mentions a ship in the first paragraph and a "great fish-net" in the final one, giving a slight Biblical undercurrent to her work. (In the New Testament, Christ calls his disciples "fishers of men," and several of them are former fishermen.) With this ending and the obvious connections between fishing and storytelling, Hurston turns her novel into a sort of fairytale. Their Eyes Were Watching God is about both the language of power and the power of language. 

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Tea Cake Character Timeline in Their Eyes Were Watching God

The timeline below shows where the character Tea Cake appears in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
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...is revealed: her named is Janie Starks, and she left town with a man called Tea Cake , who was much younger than Janie. In response, a woman named Pearl Stone expresses... (full context)
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...and the reasons for her return, though she then proceeds to ask Janie herself about Tea Cake , and whether or not he stole her money or ran off with another woman. (full context)
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...that she has traveled "tuh de horizon and back." She has returned to Eatonville because Tea Cake is gone and she was no longer happy in the Everglades, where she and Tea... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...name. The man responds that his name is Vergible Woods, but that everyone calls him Tea Cake for short, which Janie attributes to his "sweetness." They continue flirting as customers arrive back... (full context)
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Tea Cake says goodnight to Janie and she finds herself thinking about her safety on her walk... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Janie is tempted to ask Hezekiah what he knows about Tea Cake , but decides not to in order not to reveal her growing interest in him.... (full context)
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Having stayed at the store all day, Tea Cake walks Janie home, where they then eat pound cake and make fresh lemonade. After remarking... (full context)
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The next morning, Hezekiah warns Janie about spending time with a man like Tea Cake , who he believes is too "low" for a woman like Janie. Janie listens, but... (full context)
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Janie spends the following day thinking about Tea Cake . Despite her conscious desire to suppress her feelings for him, she refers to him... (full context)
Chapter 12
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After Tea Cake and Janie make their first public appearance together at the town picnic, Janie becomes the... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Janie tells Pheoby that Tea Cake is not comparable to Jody Starks, and that she wants to escape the potential comparisons... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Janie leaves Eatonville and meets Tea Cake in Jacksonville, where he's been waiting for her. Free from their past in Eatonville, Janie... (full context)
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The next morning, Tea Cake leaves early in the morning, leaving Janie to ponder his whereabouts. Thinking still that Tea... (full context)
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After Janie takes a nap, still waiting anxiously, she hears Tea Cake outside playing guitar. He admits to Janie that he found the money in her shirt,... (full context)
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Tea Cake listens to Janie and promises to reimburse her for the money he stole. When Tea... (full context)
Chapter 14
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When Janie and Tea Cake arrive in the Everglades, Janie is overwhelmed by how lush and different the landscape is... (full context)
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...traditionally female household roles of food preparation and cleaning, but spends the days working alongside Tea Cake . Even though the labor is demanding, Janie finds it "mo' nicer than settin' round... (full context)
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Janie and Tea Cake 's home is crowded each night with neighbors, who visit either to listen to Tea... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Janie experiences romantic jealousy for the first time in her marriage with Tea Cake : she finds "a little seed of fear…growing into a tree" as she witnesses a... (full context)
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After screaming, separating Tea Cake and Nunkie, and attempting to harm Nunkie physically, Janie and Tea Cake return home, where... (full context)
Chapter 16
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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... (full context)
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When Janie returns inside to Tea Cake , she realizes that Tea Cake has heard her entire conversation with Mrs. Turner. Tea... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...becomes repopulated with both new and old faces, including Mrs. Turner's infamous brother. Instantly jealous, Tea Cake preemptively whips Janie in order to make sure she doesn't cheat on him. Upon observing... (full context)
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After cashing in their paychecks on Saturday afternoon, men and women of the muck (including Tea Cake , Dick Sterrett, Coodemay, Stew Beef, Sop-de-Bottom, Bootyny and Motor Boat) gather at Mrs. Turner's... (full context)
Chapter 18
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One of the local Bahaman boys invites Tea Cake and Janie a ride to get to higher ground, but Tea Cake refuses the offer... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Surrounded by dead bodies and destroyed homes in Palm Beach, Janie and Tea Cake discuss where to go and what to do next. Meanwhile, two white men carrying rifles... (full context)
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When Tea Cake and Janie return, they are happily surprised to find out that Motor Boat survived the... (full context)
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In the coming days, Janie watches Tea Cake lose his sanity, appearing as though "a great fear had took hold of him." He... (full context)
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Before going to talk to the doctor again the following morning, Janie cautiously checks Tea Cake 's pistol while he is outside using the outhouse, and finds that it is loaded... (full context)
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Later that same day, Janie is put on trial for Tea Cake 's death. In the courtroom, the black people who've come to watch have obviously turned... (full context)
Chapter 20
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The black men living around the muck realize after the "royal" burial Janie gives Tea Cake that they were wrong to abuse her as they did. As such, they turn their... (full context)
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Before falling asleep that night, Janie returns to the memory of killing Tea Cake . She realizes that Tea Cake is still alive as long as she is still... (full context)