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Why Tea Cake?

  In the book Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, many very powerful ideas and situations were presented, ideas about the times in which the book is set and ideas about the universal situations in which the characters in the book find themselves.  This book was the subject of our group presentation; in this presentation, we tried to address most of these ideas, but we did not have enough time to address all of them.  One issue in particular remains unresolved in my mind, and that is this: Why Tea Cake?  Is Tea Cake really Janie's perfect husband, and why, after two unsuccessful marriages, does Janie finally find her perfect man in him?

  So is Tea Cake really perfect for Janie?  This is largely a rhetorical question; its answer is implied in the book, but given Janie's history with husbands, it would seem wise to verify the presented view.  Janie clearly feels that Tea Cake is her man; when she is with him, she feels "a self-crushing love ... [and] her soul crawl[s] out from its hiding place" (128).  Her life with her other husbands, Joe and Logan, represent something else; curiosity, enamoration, maybe, but not love, not "sun-up and pollen and blooming trees" (29).  For Janie, love is the most important thing in marriage; she knows this from the very first, but she doesn't manage to find it until she meets Tea Cake.

  Tea Cake is by no means a perfect person.  He is, after all, a poor, worker who makes his living by gambling.  So why is he the perfect husband for Janie?  I can see several reasons for this.  First, the very fact that he is of the lower class helps bring them closer together.  Janie has been held up on a pedestal, out of the way of society, for too long because of Joe Starks' oppression; Tea Cake, and her social interactions with him, are the embodiment of what she was missing for all those years.  Janie is drawn to Tea Cake because Tea Cake represents the life that she has not been allowed to live, and seems to offer the promise of that life to her.

  Another thing that Tea Cake represents to Janie is freedom.  Each of Janie's past two husbands has restricted her, forcing her to really be their slave, to do whatever they want.  Joe "wanted her submission and he'd keep on fighting until he felt he had it" (71); Logan felt the same way.  Tea Cake treats Janie in exactly the opposite way; with him, she is in charge, and they both do whatever she wants to do.  This is important to Janie; she has always been headstrong, always had the desire to be in control of her own destiny, always wanted to be free.  When Joe Starks dies, she experiences freedom for the first time, and, as she saw it, "[t]his freedom feeling was fine" (90); she is not about to give up her freedom just to go with another man.  Janie is drawn to Tea Cake because he offers her this control, something that no other man had ever offered her.

  On top of all this, there is the concept of love.  In this story, Janie seldom claimed to love anyone, except for Tea Cake.  Love is yet another thing that binds them together.  Love is often portrayed as a fickle, unpredictable thing; as something that can never be predicted or fully understood.  In this story, there is much evidence of this; as I stated earlier, Tea Cake is a poor worker whereas Janie is quite rich and the former wife of the town mayor, yet they fall in love and run off together anyway.  But love, in my opinion, cannot exist alone; it needs to be supported by something, no matter how small, for Janie, that ‘something' is the freedom and opportunity that Tea Cake offers and represents.  Love is the main thing that draws Janie to Tea Cake, but without the freedom and opportunity offered by Tea Cake, Janie would have inevitably wandered away from Tea Cake, in search of another venue through which to fulfill her needs.