I was honestly shocked by the ending of Their Eyes Were Watching God. While we know from the beginning that Tea Cake is ‘gone’ his immaturity and pension for gambling and music made me thing that Tea Cake had left Janie. Either to be with one of the women he meets in the Muck, or just to take her money and make a new life for himself. However, the ending turns out much differently than I though.
Here’s a brief re-cap….
Janie and Tea Cake seen to be making a good life for themselves, although Tea Cake’s temper and jealously is hinted at in the beginning of chapter seventeen, when he hits Janie to prove to others (a.k.a. Mrs. Turner) that Janie would not leave him (147-149.) So life is good, until a hurricane hits Florida, flooding the muck. Unfortunately, Janie did not leave when the others evacuated and found themselves stuck in the storm trying to swim to higher ground. Interesting, the reference to people looking to God comes up here as the people of the Muck sit wondering if they will survive the storm (159.)
At one point, Janie and Tea Cake are separated by the storm and Tea Cake instructs her to grab hold of a cow swimming by in order to stay a float. Also using the cow as a flotation device is an angry (we find out later, probably rabid) dog who threatens to attack Janie. However, Tea Cake is able to reach the cow in time and struggles with the dog until he has killed it and thrown it off the cow, but not without sustaining a nasty bite on his check (165-166.) Ultimately, Janie and Tea Cake survive the storm, and after a few days of rest Tea Cake is basically required to help bury the dead (169-172.)
Shortly thereafter, Janie and Tea Cake return to the Muck, where they even find friends they didn’t expect to survive the storm had, and life is good once again, until Tea Cake begins to feel ill and can longer drink even water without chocking. Sadly Dr. Simmons informs Janie that Tea Cake has rabies and there is little they can do for him. He even suggests she send Tea Cake to a hospital or some other place he can be restrained, so that he won’t bite or attack anyone else as his condition worsens. However, Janie informs he she can’t do that, as Tea Cake doesn’t like hospitals and she doesn’t want him to think she no longer wants to take of him. We can also infer that the situation with Tea Cake reminds her of what happened to Jody, and the fact he would not let her cake for him as he got sicker. Obviously, Janie loves Tea Cake and feels as if that dog did in fact succeed in hurting her, for if she must live with out him she might as well be dead. So, she believes all she has to do is wait for the arrival of medicine from Palm Beach and he will get better (174-178.)
However, Tea Cake’s condition quickly worsens. He becomes jealous and confused; convinced that Janie’s trip to see of the doctor for an order of medicine was a secret rendezvou with Mrs. Turner’s brother (180.) When Tea Cake awakens later, Janie even finds he is keeping a pistol under his pillow. In an effort to prevent him from hurting himself, Janie spins the barrel so he will have to fire at least three times before it will shoot, but leaves it there because she is afraid he will get angry. She does however hide his rifle. Still angry and confused, Tea Cake points the pistol at Janie and she attempts to talk him down, but is forced to raise the rifle to Tea Cake when he attempts to fire three times and will not lower the gun. Ultimately, it is Janie who kills Tea Cake is self defense, and as she comes to comfort him, he bites her arm (183-184.)
After a very shirt trial (decided by a white male jury) Janie is released on the grounds of self-defense. However, it is not until Tea Cakes funeral, where Janie makes sure he buried with a new guitar in a place in Palm Beach where floods will not disturb his body, that the members of the community forgive her (188-190.) Thus, Janie’s story comes full circle, as the flash back ends and her Pheoby assures her she will not let the townspeople say bad things about her. However, the towns opinion now matters little to Janie, as she come home now becomes she finally feels she has lived her life, and is not alone even though Tea Cake is gone, because she will always have her memories (190-193.)
Although it was a sad ending and unexpected ending, I was happy for Janie. I think Hurston intended us to feel as if Janie now had all the answers, and was at peace with herself, summed up best when she tells Pheoby;
“It’s an unknown fact, Pheoby, you got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got to do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go to tuh God and they got tuh find out about livin’fuh theyselves.
I also get the impression that she is over the resentment she felt for her grandmother. Most importantly, the reference to the horizon re appears and sums up the way Janie feels about the life she has lead, giving us the readers a feeling of the book truly coming full circle and (sort of )clarifying the reason the novel began the way it did (193.)