Tea Cake comes strolling into Eatonville hoping to watch a baseball game. Instead, he finds the widow Janie Starks minding her store while just about everyone else in town has left to go to the ballgame. He arrives a happy man, and his happiness attracts Janie. That is all author Hurston, with her tendency to shortchange her readers about the physical descriptions of her characters, tells us. He is some 12 years younger than Janie.
Tea Cake, having appeared from nowhere and seeming to have no visible means of support, worries the porch sitters because they are sure he is after Janie's money. He is just as independent as Joe Starks, but he doesn't seem interested in building towns or stores or acquiring possessions. He makes it clear to Janie, though, that he will work and take care of her. Cautiously, but excited by his presence, Janie accepts his courtship.
Courtship is part of the music of Tea Cake's life. Tea Cake treats Janie like a special person, not because she still carries with her that aura of class, but because some masculine instinct tells him that if he wants her, he will have to woo her. Tea Cake has the personality to make Janie think that maybe this man might give her the sort of love for which she has been waiting.
Tea Cake leads Janie to discover things about herself she never knew in her years with Nanny, Logan, or Joe. He teaches her how to play checkers, how to handle guns, and how to shoot. They go on picnics, much to the dismay of the porch sitters, who resent his intrusion on Janie's mandatory mourning period. He listens to Janie's opinions, helps her in the store, and plays his guitar for her. The porch sitters' gossip, but they don't challenge him.
Tea Cake's pride comes from self-confidence, just as did Joe's. Tea Cake knows he is a good gambler. He knows he is a competent worker on the muck. He knows he can provide for his wife, and he knows that he will be faithful to her. He is, in an unassuming way, a leader among the migrants on the muck. Unlike Joe, Tea Cake's self-confidence is not combined with ambition; unlike Joe, he can openly express his love for Janie. He is able to give her the dream of love that Joe Starks never understood.
Even Tea Cake's death contrasts with Joe's. Tea Cake's heroism on the muck while they try to outrun the hurricane ultimately led to his demise. Joe, however, endured a slow, painful death. His death was not valiant like Tea Cake's. Hurston presents Tea Cake as the hero, the man with whom the reader sympathizes.