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Janie’s Perfect Marriage in Their Eyes Were Watching God
Human beings are not isolated individuals. We do not wander through a landscape of trees and dunes alone, reveling in our own thoughts. Rather, we need relationships with other human beings to give us a sense of support and guidance. We are social beings, who need talk and company almost as much as we need food and sleep. We need others so much, that we have developed a custom that will insure company: marriage. Marriage assures each of us of company and association, even if it is not always positive and helpful. Unfortunately, the great majority of marriages are not paragons of support. Instead, they hold danger and barbs for both members. Only the best marriages improve both partners. So when we look at all three of Janie’s marriages, only her marriage to Teacake shows the support, guidance, and love.
Janie’s first marriage to Jason Killicks provided company for the two of them, but little else. Jason worked hard as a farmer. His idea of fun was a good night’s sleep after a hard day’s work. He saw himself as a provider and a worker, not as a dancer or an entertainer. Janie was not a good match for him. She saw his house and sixty acres as “a stump in the middle of the woods.” Janie didn’t value working as much as Killicks does. She doesn’t value her independence enough to work as hard as he does for it. Further, Killicks was happy just with the company of her, the farm animals, and the land. Janie needed a large group of other people to cheer her on and support her. Killicks never provided the audience that Tea Cake later did. Finally, Janie didn’t choose Killicks, Nanny did. Janie pretended to love him, but never did. Killicks, presumably, never loved her either.
From Killicks, Janie walked off with Jody: Joe Starks. Where Killicks promised hard work, Jody promised the easy life of importance and attention. He says that “a pretty doll baby lak you is made to sit on de front porch and rock and fan yo’self and eat ptaters dat other folks plant special just for you.” The truth was somewhat afield from these courting words. Instead of sitting on the porch, Janie had to work again, this time inside Joe’s store. Like Janie, Jody needed an audience and he got one on his porch.
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When Teacake finally arrives, Janie is close to forty years old. She has no more worries about money or land, since Joe left her with both of those. More importantly, Joe left her the audience of Eatonville, which she has taken to both loving and hating. First, Teacake is precisely the entertainer that Janie seems to want. He doesn’t value work, but rather gambling, singing and strumming. “Teacake’s house was a magnet.... the unauthorized center of the job.” Since Janie now has the necessities of life taken care of, she can afford Tea Cake’s antics. Further, she likes working with him “we ain’t got nothin tuh do but do our work, and come home and love.” His antics give her the things she seems to value most: an audience. She could go out on the porch and tell the stories and listen in and do everything that the men were doing. Finally, and most importantly, Janie loved Teacake. Both of them felt their hearts sing and the earth move.
Even though the relationship with Teacake was Janie’s best marriage, it was, by no means perfect. Tea Cake beat her publicly once, stole her money, and possibly raped her. Janie still had to do all the cooking, cleaning, and “women’s work” that she had to do before. Even though she had all the money, he still had to show “who was boss.” For her part, Janie accepts the treatment. However, just because the marriage wasn’t good for everyone, doesn’t mean that the marriage didn’t work for her. In the end, her marriage to Tea Cake isn’t a model for the rest of us to aspire to. Rather, it shows two flawed individuals coming together into something bigger than the two of them. Zora has not portrayed a perfect marriage for us. Rather. She has written a perfect marriage for them.