The novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, describes the life of an African American girl by the name Janie, who has to undergo through numerous challenges, including three marriages, before realizing her desire for independence, empowerment, and happiness. One of the most influential male characters in her life is Vergible Woods, who is commonly known as Tea Cake. Tea Cake is Janie’s third husband, the first two being Logan Killicks and Joe Starks. The relationship between Janie and Tea Cake starts at Jacksonville when the two meet after the death of Janie’s former husband Logan, and they finally settle down at Everglades or “the muck”. The following paper will demonstrate the influence of Tea Cake in Janie’s life, including how he contributes towards Janie’s independence and self-actualization.
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Tea Cake works at the railroad and spends most of his part-time gambling or playing his guitar. His simple character and easy manners make him attractive to Janie, who has hitherto experienced harshness from his former lovers. Also, he is young and nearly the same age as Janie. His love for beauty and nature makes it possible for the two to mingle easily with minimal conflicts. One of the common traits identifiable in Tea Cake is carelessness. When Janie decides to move in with Tea Cake, she secretly conceals two hundred dollars in her shirt pocket, and fears to reveal the secret to Tea Cake. However, Tea Cake soon finds the money and spends it with railroad workmates without Janie’s approval. Despite being aware of the risks involved in squandering Janie’s money on a big chicken and macaroni, he does not seem to care but proceeds with his careless life. Besides, he spends most of the time gambling, rather than spending time with his lover.
The love between Tea Cake and Janie is however dominated by happiness, although there are some short-lived conflicts. Tea Cake takes the domineering role throughout their relationship, but the happiness he brings to Janie makes the inequality insignificant. Unlike Janie’s former husbands, Tea Cake’s simple life serves as an advantage in Janie’s quest for true love and independence. Rather than discouraging her efforts in self-actualization, he plays a supportive role and encourages her to be resilient. After realizing his mistake with the hidden cash, he promises to reimburse through gambling. Also, he promises Janie that rather than using her savings in the bank, he would get work to provide for their needs. To prove his commitment to change, they both relocate to Everglades or “the muck”, where Tea Cake picks beans during the day and heads on to gamble and play guitar at night.
Tea Cake’s character fits Janie’s dream of a perfect lover. In him, she finds happiness, love, and an individual who appreciates her desire to develop. Since childhood, Janie always believed that a perfect marriage required true love and had hitherto not experienced the feelings she had for Tea Cake. The same feelings of ever finding true love emerge when Janie sits under the pear tree and starts to meditate over the joy of life. On his part, Tea Cake also has a genuine love for Janie, since as the narrator affirms, he feels lonely being away from his wife, and that is why he decides to increase the time spent with her at home. The confession of loneliness notwithstanding, Tea Cake’s absenteeism from Janie’s life increases her desire and love for him. The more he stays away gambling, the more she desires and longs for him, and the more she loves him. This is demonstrated in the type of food she prepares for him, while he spends his evening’s gambling and playing his guitar.
Tea Cake’s contribution to Janie’s empowerment is demonstrated when she teaches her to use a gun and play checkers. Although Janie emerges as a better hunter than Tea Cake, this does not deter him from encouraging her to press on. Besides, he offers her an opportunity to act out of her own will, when they relocate to Everglades. From his simplicity and sense of freedom, Janie acquires a different personality and starts to appreciate life in its simplest form. His love for nature and beauty strengthens their bond since Janie finds a partner who appreciates her desires and passion.
Also, she becomes independent in her decisions, since she does not have to rely on Tea Cake to make some personal decisions. Her empowerment is demonstrated when Tea Cake is attacked by a rabid dog and due to the infection, tries to shoot Janie. However, she uses her acquired shooting skills to defend herself, killing him in self-defense. During the trial, Janie is acquitted based on her argument and strong personality, which she had acquired while living with Tea Cake. Tea Cake’s role in the novel is therefore to empower Janie and increase her happiness. Through his crazy character, Janie finds someone in whom she takes pride. Besides, the freedom accorded to her makes her pursue her desires and interests while living within her long-time childhood dream.