Tea Cake wakes up the next morning, and is deeply critical of their shabby surroundings; he wants to move on. He tells Janie he's going to go out and look around. He has only been out walking a short while when he's recruited, at gunpoint, by white men looking for able-bodied men to help bury the dead. He protests, but has little choice. The men who seem to be in charge insist that the vast number of corpses be inspected carefully to determine the race of each: black bodies are to be dumped in a large pit, while white bodies are to be put in simple coffins. One of the black men points out that with the state of many of the corpses, it's difficult to tell what race they were; the guards instruct the men to look carefully at the hair of each body to determine the color.
By now, Tea Cake is sure Janie is desperate with worry about him, and he takes a big risk and runs away. He tells her what happened, and convinces her they should go back down to the muck, which they do, and they fix up a house to live in. The next day Tea Cake goes out to look around, and when he returns in the evening, he's grinning. It seems all their friends escaped harm from the storm; and the funniest story - Motor Boat, who had stubbornly stayed behind in the house on the hill, had napped upstairs while the lake carried the house to an entirely different place. He slept through the whole thing!
Tea Cake gets work, along with all the other men, clearing off the damage from the storm. For three weeks, everything is going well, and he even buys another rifle and pistol so he and Janie could shoot for fun. But in the middle of the fourth week, Tea Cake comes home one afternoon complaining of a sick headache. He's not hungry, and begins having terrible dreams. He asks Janie for a glass of water, and she gives him one. But the water makes him gag terribly; Janie hurries out to find some medicine or a doctor. As soon as she's left, Tea Cake empties the water bucket and fills it again - he thinks she's been careless in washing the bucket. He tries to drink again; he's so thirsty, but he chokes again and is unable to swallow.
Janie returns with a white doctor - the doctor who always took care of the men down on the muck. The doctor quizzes him on his symptoms, and Janie reveals what happened with the dog in the storm. When the doctor is done, he pulls Janie aside and gives her some pills to keep Tea Cake quiet, but tells her Tea Cake needed medical attention weeks ago. He thinks Tea Cake will die before he can get the right medicine, and he expects Tea Cake will suffer greatly, too. He recommends Janie take him to the hospital, where he can be tied down. She refuses that idea and pleads that something must be done. The doctor says he'll call Palm Beach right away to send the necessary serum, but that it's probably too late.
Janie can't contemplate life without Tea Cake; she wishes she had drowned instead. When she goes back in, Tea Cake feels even worse, but he doesn't want to worry her, so he doesn't say anything. She says she's going outside to clean up, but she really wants to find out if the medicine had been located. She runs into some of his friends, whom she sends in to sit with him. When she returns, he jealously asks about Mrs. Turner's brother, who is apparently back in town (Tea Cake's friend had told him this while Janie was out). She convinces him he has no reason to worry. But then, inadvertently, she feels Tea Cake's pistol underneath his pillow, and "it gave her a quick ugly throb." He never slept with his gun under his pillow!
Tea Cake had two bad attacks that night, and Janie sees a change come over his face: Tea Cake was gone, and something else had taken his place. The next morning she prepares to go find the doctor again, but Tea Cake, in a jealous rage, won't let her leave. She becomes scared for herself and for Tea Cake, and when he goes to the outhouse, she checks to see if his gun is loaded; she whirls the cylinder around so it could snap three times without firing, so she would have warning. She also put some cartridges for the rifle in her apron pocket, and hid the rifle in a place easily accessible to her.
Even the way he walks was strange now. The moment he returns, he resumes his jealous questioning: why didn't she sleep in the bed with him anymore? He says he won't take this treatment from her anymore, and levels his gun at her. He fires once, but of course the chamber is empty. Janie grabs the rifle and loads it; she hears the second click. She tries to talk to him, but he has this ferocious look on his face and Janie doesn't think she can reason with him. She aims the rifle at him, hoping he'll be scared and put his gun down. But she's forced to shoot; they shoot nearly in unison, the shot from the rifle hitting Tea Cake, but his bullet goes over her head. He crashes forward in her arms, and in his last moment, he bites her on her forearm.
She is devastated and holds him for a long time, crying. Later in the day, she is arrested and put in jail. The doctor tells the sheriff and the judge the circumstances, and they agree to try her that very day. There is the judge in his great robe, a jury composed of twelve white men, and a huge crowd, blacks and whites, men and women. There are so many black people there, and Janie "felt them pelting her with dirty thoughts." Some of them even send word to the prosecuting attorney, Mr. Prescott, that they want to testify against Janie. The doctor describes for the court Tea Cake's sickness and Janie's deep concern for him. The black men in back are restless and want to be heard; Sop-de-Bottom speaks up and says he has something to say. Mr. Prescott responds, "Another word out of you, out of any of you niggers back there, and I'll bind you over to the big court."
The white women in the courtroom applaud at this. Then Janie is called to the stand and asked to tell her story. She isn't melodramatic, and she doesn't plead, she just calmly says what had happened, and everyone can see it's the truth. The jury files out and Janie just has to wait; more than a guilty verdict, she feared being misunderstood. Within five minutes, the jury is back, and they declare Tea Cake's death to be accidental.
So she is free and everyone smiles and shakes her hand; the white women cry and stand around her like a protecting wall while the Negroes, clearly upset and angry, leave quietly. She takes a room in a boarding house and hears several men talking about her: one comments that white men certainly weren't going to punish a woman who looked like her; the other responds that of course she wasn't punished - she'd killed a black man, not a white man.
Janie buries Tea Cake in Palm Beach. Tea Cake's friends had hurt Janie, but she knew it was only because they loved Tea Cake and didn't understand. She sent word to all of them about the funeral, and she gives Tea Cake the fanciest funeral imaginable: "Tea Cake rode like a Pharaoh to his tomb."
Browse all Studyworld Studynotes|
Points to Ponder
Did You Know