Summary and Analysis
The Everglades and Lake Okeechobee are Tea Cake's territory. He knows the work, the bosses, the workers, and the camps. He and Janie arrive early so that they can get a room at a hotel where they will have access to a bathtub. Work in the muck is very dirty. They move on a few days later to a location where there is the assurance of work with a boss that Tea Cake likes. They rent a two-room house, which Janie soon turns into a home while Tea Cake plants beans. For diversion, Tea Cake proposes that he teach Janie how to handle guns and shoot.
The workers pour into the camp, but Tea Cake can't make any extra money gambling because this is the start of the season, and nobody has any money. The lively life of migrants surrounds Janie. These people work hard all day and play hard at night. The jook joints are alive with activity, and Tea Cake and Janie's house is an oasis for the other workers. Tea Cake sits in the doorway and entertains the people with his guitar and his stories.
At first, Janie only keeps house and cooks baked beans to please Tea Cake. When Janie grows tired of staying home and Tea Cake claims to be so lonesome for her that he has to take off work just to be with her, she decides to go to work with him. Together, they work and joke, and the migrants readily accept Janie. In the muck, Janie thinks about life in Eatonville and feels pity for the people there.
In a short time, Janie gains acceptance from the other migrant workers, but only after enduring their initial judgments. After dealing with the boredom of keeping house and Tea Cake's loneliness for her, Janie decides to work in the fields with her husband. Many of the migrant workers believed that Janie "thought herself too good to work like the rest of the women." The workers pass judgment on Janie because she had not initially worked on the muck. They assumed that she considered herself too privileged to subject herself to the difficult labor of the migrant workers. She fits in quickly, and the judgments made by the workers are dropped as they witness the "romping and playing they [Tea Cake and Janie] carried on behind the boss's back."
Hurston also reveals in this chapter that Tea Cake serves to bring people together. His "house was a magnet, the unauthorized center of the 'job.'" Whether he plays the guitar or tells stories, the migrant workers seem to be drawn to Tea Cake and his charming personality, much like Janie is.
Unlike Janie's other husbands, Tea Cake makes a point to tell her that he loves her. He misses her so much while he is working in the fields that he convinces her to get a job working along side of him. Janie is the center of Tea Cake's world, and he does not want her to forget it.
pickin' my box playing my guitar.
dyke . . . Indians Hurston has inserted two seemingly insignificant details here which she will later use for dramatic effect when the hurricane strikes. Tea Cake and Janie live very close to the lake, and they will see Indians leaving as the storm approaches — yet they choose to ignore the wisdom of these local people.
flivver a small, cheap automobile, especially an old one.
sit in the doorway Hurston does not even suggest that the migrants go into Janie's house.
black-eyed peas and rice This combination is known as "Hoppin' John." It is a staple with a long history in Southern cooking.