Summary and Analysis
Janie and Tea Cake make it to safety in Palm Beach and survive, but Tea Cake is soon pressed into service by rifle-carrying white men who need him to help clear the wreckage and bury the dead. He and the other workers are instructed about the necessity of separating the bodies of white victims from the black corpses. The whites are to be buried in hastily constructed pine boxes; the blacks are just buried. As soon as Tea Cake has an opportunity to flee, he does so.
Janie is sincerely appreciative of her husband's efforts to save her life, and she urges him to see a doctor about the dog bite. Tea Cake refuses, insisting that, first of all, they need to find a place to rest. Janie is proud of his heroism, and he wants her to know that she has a real man to take care of her. Shortly thereafter, they decide to go back to the muck. Tea Cake has had enough of Palm Beach; the city is too inhospitable.
Back on the muck, Tea Cake checks up on his old friends and is relieved to learn that only one of them died in the storm. He soon finds work, and after three weeks, he and Janie take time off to enjoy rifle shooting. Some time later, Tea Cake begins to show signs of an infection where the dog bit him on the cheek. Janie tries to take care of him, but as his illness progresses, he becomes more difficult. His inability to swallow water frightens both of them. Janie leaves to fetch Doctor Simmons, a white doctor, for her desperately ill husband, but it is too late. The doctor will be able to get the serum, but nothing can help Tea Cake now.
In the fury of his illness, he struggles with Janie. Hopelessly deranged, he suddenly threatens her with the six-shooter, and she defends herself with the rifle. His pistol and her rifle fire simultaneously. Tea Cake falls forward and buries his teeth in Janie's forearm, as she catches him. Later, Janie must endure a brief trial, but she is freed. Afterward, she must arrange his funeral. She gives Tea Cake a glorious send-off, burying him in Palm Beach. This time there is real mourning for the dead.
For the second time in the novel, Hurston hints at the occurrence of racism. All of the white people who died in the hurricane will be buried in coffins, while the black people will just be buried. The guards instructing Tea Cake on how to bury the dead explain that the coffins are "too hard tuh git holt of right now" to be wasted on the bodies of the deceased blacks. Tea Cake is troubled by the double standard created by the intolerant guards. With his first opportunity, Tea Cake escapes, and he confides to Janie that they must leave immediately because he "don't mean tuh work lak dat no mo'."
As Tea Cake becomes seriously ill, Janie reflects on the rabid dog that caused her husband's illness. Somehow she doesn't find Tea Cake's fate fair, as he was just trying to protect her when the dog bit him. Watching her husband die, Janie says, is too much for her to bear, and she wishes that the dog had killed her instead. Janie questions and pleads with God, wondering why "Tea Cake, the son of Evening Sun, had to die for loving her."
While Tea Cake's funeral is similar to Joe's in that they both were given a distinguished farewell, one aspect remains different. This time Janie does not wear traditional mourning attire to the service; rather, she wears her overalls, clothing that she associates with her husband. Tea Cake's awful death devastates Janie, and she confesses that "she was too busy feeling grief to dress like grief." In contrast to Joe's funeral, Janie does not look like a widow at Tea Cake's funeral, but she certainly feels the sorrow and the pain of being one.
Tryin' not to keep you outa yo' comfortable no longer'n you wanted to stay In other words, I don't want to keep you here in this uncomfortable place any longer than you want to stay. Earlier in the novel, Tea Cake wanted to comb Janie's hair, and she referred to it as her "comfortable," not his. "Comfortable" would be a unique personal possession.
Give it uh poor man's trial A poor man takes any respectable job he can get and does his best with it.
uh common trial similar to the definition above. Just to be working, Tea Cake will take any job available.
de Jim Crow law These are laws associated with traditional discrimination against or segregation of blacks, especially in the United States.
trouble and compellment Tea Cake is troubled by the white guards forcing him — compelling him — to help bury the dead.
motherless chile Tea Cake is out of his element. He feels as though he doesn't belong to anyone, like a child in slavery sold away from its mother. The song "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is often included in collections of spirituals.
Six months behind de United States privy house at hard smellin' The reference is to a privy, a toilet, especially an outhouse, which has a thoroughly obnoxious smell if it hasn't been properly maintained. This is Tea Cake's metaphor for being tossed into a federal jail and put to hard work.
bucked each other beat and/or challenged each other.
quart of coon-dick cheap moonshine or bootleg whiskey.
lap-legged brother a suggestion that Mrs. Turner's brother's legs are malformed and not straight — clearly, an insult.
watchin' de job watching and waiting for Tea Cake to die.
relic Janie is the relic, or the person who has survived, from their marriage. The word could also be an echo of the Old English term relict, which means surviving the death of another.