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Free Study Guide-Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston-Free
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Chapters 18 - 19

Notes

The tragedy is played out in these two chapters. When the hurricane is starting, it is very clear that Tea Cake is not thinking too clearly, and Janie does not insist on following the advice of the Indians or her own instincts. Like many permanent inhabitants of the muck, they try to ignore the outside world, but the storm comes after them. The language Hurston uses to describe the storm and the raging lake waters is ripe with doom. As the storm grows more fierce and dangerous, many people, including Janie and Tea Cake, question God. In fact, the book's title comes from this section. The folks on the muck try to see beyond the terrible events of the storm, to understand what God is doing; many die as "Their Eyes Were Watching God." When Tea Cake grows sick, it is Janie who is watching God. She questions why such a horror should befall herself and Tea Cake.

The scenes set during the storm and its aftermath are filled with short and harried conversations, the type people would actually have during a disaster. Too much is going on to have real conversation. But the disaster fails to wipe out the prejudices of the white people. When an exhausted Tea Cake and Janie reach the six-mile bridge, the white people will not let them stay on the crowded bridge; they hurriedly move them onward. When Tea Cake is helping to bury the dead, he sees the same kind of prejudice in action. The bodies of the whites are put in pine boxes; the black bodies are thrown in a common, open grave.


Chapter 19 begins with massive and impersonal death and climaxes with the very private death of Tea Cake. As he gets sicker and sicker, Hurston carefully builds doubts into Tea Cake's mind; Mrs. Turner's brother is brought back to the muck and Tea Cake feels certain that he has been cursed. Tortured as he is, Tea Cake hides the pistol under his pillow. When Janie finds it and rearranges the bullets, Hurston begins to foreshadow the tragic end of the novel. When Janie loads and hides the rifle, it is obvious that she will have to use it on Tea Cake to defend herself. Fortunately for Janie, Tea Cake's madness is interrupted by moments of connection with her, which helps to feel loved and sustained until the end.

Hurston's prose also takes flight when she describes Tea Cake's death. It is noteworthy that rather than having Janie turn into a puddle of woe over her husband's impending death, Hurston shows her as taking charge. She stays by Tea Cake's side, taking care of him; she thanks him for the love they have shared, for he has truly been her pear tree; she finds the pistol and rearranges the bullets, allowing him to keep the gun instead of shaming him; she knows he is out of his mind when he tries to shoot her and has prepared herself with the rifle. Hurston clearly writes Janie as the agent of her own actions, taking life and death as it comes and living her love and appreciation for Tea Cake.

At her trial, Janie knows she has no supporters. The white people do not like her because she is black. The Negroes do not like her because she has killed their friend Tea Cake. Only the doctor comes to her defense. Fortunately, the white jury listens to him and frees Janie.

To show her love, Janie plans a fancy funeral for Tea Cake. She forgives the people on the muck for their treatment of her at the trial and invites them to attend the burial in Palm Beach. The funeral is an obvious flashback to the one held for Joe Starks in Eatonville; but it is a very different ceremony and a very different Janie in Palm Beach. She is wearing overalls, for she is too grieved over her husband's death to dress with grief. Janie has truly lost the one love of her life; she is burying her pear tree.

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