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Free Study Guide-Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston-Free
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Chapters 16 - 17

Summary

At the end of the season people leave the muck, but Janie and Tea Cake stay. They get to know some of the local folks, including the proprietess of an eating establishment, Mrs. Turner. Tea Cake makes mean comments about Mrs. Turner's "white" appearance, but she likes her own looks because they set her aside from the Negroes around her. In turn, Mrs. Turner does not understand why a woman like Janie, with a nice "coffee-and-cream" complexion, associates with dark people like Tea Cake. Instead, she has a brother she would like to see alongside Janie. When Janie asks Mrs. Turner why she is so against dark folk, the woman claims it is because they are always laughing and cutting up for white folks, wearing bright colors and being "lak uh fly in buttermilk." Mrs. Turner says she has never gone near a black doctor and never shops at black-owned businesses.

Mrs. Turner mentions how her brother has read about Booker T. Washington, and how Mr. Washington is one of those who "cut de monkey" for white folks. She claims, "He wuz a white folks' nigger." This is sacrilege to Janie, but she keeps quiet while Mrs. Turner goes on praising her brother and imaging him married to Janie. Janie points out that she is already married, and after listening to Mrs. Turner's various views a little longer, she says good-bye and finds Tea Cake in the next room with his head in his hands. He has heard the whole discussion. He is furious, and tells Janie that Mrs. Turner is banned from his house. He is determined that the other black folks on the muck will know about her views and stop patronizing her eating establishment. He also plans to speak to her husband. When Tea Cake meets Mr. Turner, he feels sorry for him, for he looks downtrodden. Mr. Turner admits that his wife is going to do and think what she likes, no matter what he says. Janie begins to treat Mrs. Turner coldl y; she accepts the treatment, because by being "whiter" Janie is better and, therefore, her mean attitude is reasonable. All people who set up gods tend to worship them and even expect cruelty; "real gods require blood."


A new crowd of itinerant workers arrives in the fall. At first they do not trust Janie and Tea Cake, until they understand the closeness of the couple. Still, jealousies arise; one involves Mrs. Turner's brother. Tea Cake solves the problem by whipping Janie, not because she deserves it, but because it relieves his fear and establishes his possession. She quietly takes the beating and cries. One man points out that Tea Cake is a lucky man; most women don't show that they have been beaten like Janie. Her marks prove Tea Cake's mastery. Tea Cake brags that she is a fine woman and has lots of money, too. He says that Janie will follow him wherever he wants to be, and that he only beat her to show the Turners who is boss. The man suggests that Tea Cake might want to beat on Mrs. Turner, but the two decide that the best would be for the Turners to be run off the muck.

The next Saturday, after everyone has been paid and the usual round of drinking has begun, a small group, including Tea Cake, is eating at the Turners' crowded restaurant. They start a disagreement among themselves, and Tea Cake, while pretending to straighten out the problem and defend Mrs. Turner, gets the crowd riled up for a fight which destroys the place. By this time, the original combatants have made up, and everyone goes off to have a drink somewhere else. Mrs. Turner has a bloody hand, is angry that no one called the police, and yells at sympathizers and her husband for not stopping the carnage. She decides that she will move down to Palm Beach; she will take her son and her brother, for they are real men. The next day, some of the men from the muck come to apologize and give her five dollars, saying that the liquor made them do it.

Notes

These two chapters show both the developing bond between Janie and Tea Cake, and the development of conflict and personality within the muck community. This society is made up of a variety of "black" folks, with a wide range of ideas on race and color. The difficulty over physical appearance is investigated to a considerable degree, with Mrs. Turner taking the view that color determines worthiness. To her dark is bad, and light is beautiful. She wants to be Janie's friend and sister-in-law because of her light complexion. Ironically, she does not like Booker T. Washington for "selling out the race" and playing up to white folks. Hurston ridicules Mrs. Turner values through her discussion of gods, worship, and fear.

Tea Cake's very defensive reaction to Mrs. Turner leads to one of the most troubling scenes of the book, the beating of Janie. The ideas of male possession and the acceptance of violence towards women do not go along with the book's primarily feminist viewpoint. Some critics chastise Janie for never speaking out about the incident and wonder why Hurston has let her remain silent. Janie' reaction, however, is quite in keeping with the picture of her that has been developed. She will do or tolerate anything to keep the love of Tea Cake. He is now her lifeline, and she is not about to quickly cut it off by speaking out against an action, wife beating, that is socially accepted in the Negro community of the 1930's.

The physical violence in this section, imposed on both Mrs. Turner and Janie, is in sharp contrast to the happy-go-lucky tale of fun, frolic, and love that Hurston has been presenting on the muck. Beneath the happy exterior of these Blacks, there lurks fear and misplaced worship, which leads to the inappropriate violence. Hurston, obviously, does not condone it; she simply presents it as a fact of life upon the muck. She then shows how Janie can accept it to protect what she has; and Mrs. Turner runs to Palm Beach to escape it, taking the "real men" in her life with her. Notice that she plans to leave her timid husband behind.

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