Their Eyes Were Watching God; Day Five

February 27, 2008 at 8:33 pm | Posted in Their Eyes Were Watching God | 1 Comment
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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Chapters 18-20

Chapters 18

This is a big chapter, an important one. Janie and Tea Cake (along with most of their friends) hear that a hurricane is coming, they see people leaving, they see animals leaving, but they along with other field workers think that it’s fine to stay, that it’s good to stay, that those leaving are dumb. After all, “You couldn’t have a hurricane when you’re making seven and eight dollars a day picking beans.” (155)

Their decision was already made as always. Chink up your cracks, shiver in your wet beds and wait on the mercy of the Lord. The bossman might have the thing stopped before morning anyway. It is so easy to be hopeful in the daytime when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in his hands. (158)

As the storm gets worse, as the thunder, the lightning, the winds, the rain gets worse, they all begin to worry.

“They huddled closer and stared at the door. They just didn’t use another part of their bodies, and they didn’t look at anything but the door. The time was past for asking the white folks what to look for through that door. Six eyes were questioning God. Through the screaming wind they heard things crashing and things hurtling and dashing with unbelievable velocity.” (159)

Tea Cake interrupts the mood by asking Janie if she regrets coming with him, being with him, he asks her if she would have any regrets if they were to die, if she were to die because of the storm.

Her response, “If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don’t keer if you die at dusk. It’s so many people never seen de light at all. Ah wuz fumblin’ round and God opened de door.” (159)

The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God. (160)

It is at this point that Tea Cake and Janie decide that to stay is to die, and even though they might still die trying to escape, to flee, they’ve got to at least try to do something. They face many dangers–many–as they walk, run, and swim in an effort to get out of the way of the lake. In the process, in the midst of their escape, Tea Cake is bit by a dog who was going after Janie, threatening Janie. Eventually, though they make it.

“It was the next day by the sun and the clock when they reached Palm Beach. It was years later by their bodies. (166)

Chapter 19

And then again Him-with-the-square toes had gone back to his house. He stood once more and again in his high flat house without sides to it and without a room with his soulless sword standing upright in his hand. His pale white horse had galloped over waters and thundered over land. The time of dying was over. It was time to bury the dead. (168)

Even though the initial threat is over, things haven’t really calmed down or returned to normal. For one thing, they’re in a new-to-them city after a huge storm. All the African-American men are being pressed into service. Being forced to work all day to bury the dead, to clean up the wreckage. The white dead get buried in cheap pine coffins, but the black dead just get thrown in a hole. Tea Cake, after one day of enforced service, decides to run with Janie and get out of there and go back home to the Glades. There at least the white folks know them. If they’re still forced to work, at least there’s that much going for them.

Halfway through this chapter, and a full four weeks after the hurricane, Tea Cake begins to get sick. They don’t know what’s wrong. But he’s acting strange, he’s not feeling himself. Janie goes to seek a doctor, but even with a doctor some things can’t be helped, can’t be stopped. The doctor tells Janie that it was a mad dog that bit her husband. That her husband has rabies and there is nothing they can do about it now. It’s progressed to far for him to be saved. He urges her to send her husband to the hospital where he can be tied down, but she refuses. These pages are painful and unpleasant. The heartbreaking moment being the showdown between Janie and Tea Cake as he tries to shoot her with his pistol as she has to defend herself with her rifle. The rifle wins. The pistol misses Janie’s head. Then the court has to sit in judgment of Janie’s actions. They acquit her. And she’s free. The next funeral is quite different from Jody’s. Here her heart is breaking. She doesn’t look the picture of a grieving woman all dressed in ‘veils and robes’ she attends in her overalls. “She was too busy feeling grief to dress like grief.” (189)

Chapter 20

So Janie finishes her story to Phoeby, and we’re back in the present. Back to where we started. “Ah done been tuh de horizon and back and now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons. Dis house ain’t so absent of things lak it used tuh be befo’ Tea Cake come along.” (191) “Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” (191)

“Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.” (192)

“She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.” (193)

The last chapter is so lyrical, so beautiful to me. Full of imagery. It may be a sadder and wiser Janie, but life goes on. And like Phoeby I just got to say, “Ah done growed teen feet higher just’ listenin’ tuh you, Janie.”

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  1. It is so easy to be hopeful in the day time when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night.” 158

    it must be symbolic of how during the day one can see, but once it is night without one of your senses, sight, one will become very fearfull without knowing what is ahead.


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