Their Eyes Were Watching God


Zora Neale Hurston

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Their Eyes Were Watching God: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

As the harvest season picks up, the muck 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 Janie's bruises, Sop-de-Bottom and other men around the muck express jealousy to Tea Cake, as they too desire control over a woman like Janie. In response to Tea Cake's abuse, Janie remains silent and continues to express her love for Tea Cake.
Tea Cake's beating of Janie—which come as an extreme surprise to the reader—is a symptom of his insecurity, which is not about political power as it was for Jody but rather around sexual power. Either way, though, it drives him to affirm his power over Janie through a preemptive physical attack. Janie's silent acceptance of Tea Cake's abuse is not of the same kind as her silence in response to Janie, as she has now found her voice and been treated as an equal by Tea Cake. Rather, her choice not to put up a fight is just that— a choice—born out of her love for Tea Cake. That said, this dynamic indicates another complicating factor in the paradoxical nature of Janie's relationship with Tea Cake – while he liberates Janie, her particular love for him compromises her sense of independence.
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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 restaurant to celebrate. Chaos breaks out when the drunk Dick Sterrett and Coodemay begin antagonizing their fellow restaurant diners, which includes Tea Cake. Tea Cake wants to prove his nobility to Mrs. Turner and tries to escort the two drunk men out of the restaurant. But Tea Cake's attempt to help just adds to the chaos and soon a full-fledged fight breaks out. Mrs. Turner finally enters the havoc and screams for the police, berates her husband for not intervening more aggressively, and accuses Tea Cake of shoving her down.
Tea Cake has never seemed to care what people think of him, but Mrs. Turner and her brother makes him feel insecure, and so he acts to try to look good in their eyes, to prove himself noble. But in doing so he just creates more chaos, and somehow ends up looking even worse as far as Mrs. Turner is concerned. The implication is that acting just to please others who are judgmental of you will never work, as they will just find new reasons to perpetuate their original judgment.
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