Tea Cake

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Vergible Woods, known as Tea Cake, is the third husband of Janie Crawford, the protagonist of Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). He is a troubadour, a traveling bluesman dedicated to aesthetic and joyful pursuits, and he presents a vivid contrast to Janie's second husband, Joe Starks, a politician and businessman. Tea Cake is, as his name implies, a veritable man of nature or natural man, who seems at ease being who and what he is. Unlike Joe, Tea Cake has no desire to be a “big voice.” Tea Cake and Janie engage in small talk and invent variations of traditional courtship rituals. They play checkers, fish by moonlight, and display their affection freely. An unselfish lover, Tea Cake delights in Janie's pleasure. Janie soon concludes that Tea Cake “could be a bee to a blossom–a pear tree blossom in the spring.” Despite the disapproval of her neighbors, she marries this man several years younger than she whose only worldly possession is a guitar. She travels with him to the “muck,” where they both work in the field and share household chores.

Though their romance is idyllic, Tea Cake is not a completely idealized character. When he feels their relationship is threatened, he beats Janie. But at the novel's climax, he saves her life during a hurricane. Later, having contracted rabies, he attacks his wife. Janie kills him in self-defense. In the epilogue, Janie cherishes Tea Cake's memory; not only her lover, he has been a cultural mentor and spiritual guide.

Cheryl A. Wall

Subjects: Literature.

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