Before long, the seasonal workers on the muck begin returning, and Mrs. Turner's brother arrives to chase after Janie, according to his sister's plan. It is then that Tea Cake conceives a plan that involves slapping Janie. For him, slapping his wife is an assertion of his role as a husband, and it is a gesture that the other migrants, as well as Mrs. Turner, will understand. Janie has been hit before, however. Joe struck her more than once.
A fight breaks out at Mrs. Turner's restaurant between several drunken migrant workers. Tea Cake joins the fight after he is unable to stop it. Mrs. Turner becomes angry with her husband because he failed to break up the brawl.
Tea Cake begins to identify Janie as his possession. Because he feels threatened after Janie meets Mrs. Turner's brother, he strikes his wife to reassure himself that Janie belongs to him and no one else. Tea Cake doesn't believe that Janie did anything to deserve her beating; rather "it relieved that awful fear inside him." Also, Tea Cake wants to send a message to the Turners that he is in control. He confides to Sop-de-Bottom that it is Mrs. Turner's fault that he hit Janie because she sent her brother "tuh bait Janie in and take her away from me." Beating Janie stems from Tea Cake's need to control her, his jealousy, and the fear of losing his wife. Ironically, it is this type of control that caused Janie's isolation from Joe. In the beginning of her relationship with Tea Cake, he represented freedom for Janie. Now, however, Tea Cake is exerting the same domination over Janie that Joe did.
It is possible that Tea Cake and his friends allowed the fight to escalate into a brawl at the restaurant. Mrs. Turner angered Tea Cake when she sent her brother to try to lure Janie away from Tea Cake. Perhaps Tea Cake and his friends hope that the physical damage caused at the restaurant will serve as an act of revenge for the emotional damage caused by Mrs. Turner's bigotry.
peart lively, chipper, sprightly, smart, and so on.
fracas a noisy fight or loud quarrel; brawl.