Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Checkers Symbol Analysis

Checkers Symbol Icon
Tea Cake invites Janie to play checkers when they first meet, making Janie feel equal in power to a man she is interested in for the first time in her life. The game of checkers symbolizes the way in which Tea Cake establishes a new romantic dynamic with Janie that allows her to find a voice, feel empowered and reach the horizon – it is a relationship that is completely different from that which she shared with her previous husbands. The game of checkers places Janie in an equal position to her lover, and symbolizes Tea Cake's fun-loving, playful worldview that excites and enlivens Janie's life. However, in checkers, as Janie herself notes, there is potential for cheating, showing the dangerous side of such a fun-loving approach to life, that ultimately brings upon Tea Cake's death in his decision to remain in the muck during the hurricane.

Checkers Quotes in Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Their Eyes Were Watching God quotes below all refer to the symbol of Checkers. 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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Checkers Symbol Timeline in Their Eyes Were Watching God

The timeline below shows where the symbol Checkers appears in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 10
Gender Roles and Relations Theme Icon
Desire, Love, and Independence Theme Icon
...flirt for a few minutes until the man asks Janie to play a game of checkers. After the game, Janie and the man continue to flirt and decide to play another... (full context)