Is Tea Cake a good or bad person?
Not long after Jody’s death, Janie marries Tea Cake, and soon realizes that he has many concerning traits. He steals the money she hides from him, spends it entertaining other women, and gambles in an illegal and dangerous dice game to get it back for her. Tea Cake’s principal concern is for himself, and he often disguises his selfishness under the guise of love for Janie. For example, when they move to the Everglades to work on the muck, Tea Cake tells Janie she “betta come git uh job uh work out dere lak de rest uh de women,” claiming he misses her too much to go a full work-day without her.
One of his most concerning traits is the jealousy he allows to cloud his judgment, resulting in him physically assaulting Janie to relieve “the awful fear inside him” when a potential suitor visits the muck. Tea Cake’s egotism prevents Janie from being a truly equal partner in their relationship, which desecrates the vision of perfect unity she has attached to marriage since her pear tree revelation.
Despite many examples of reckless behavior, Tea Cake’s motivation could also be interpreted as purer and more child-like than it appears at first glance, and Janie actually has quite a bit of autonomy in their relationship. In describing her new love to Pheoby, Janie claims “Tea Cake ain’t draggin’ me off nowhere Ah don’t want tuh go.” After two soured marriages, Janie knows what she wants and makes her choice to marry Tea Cake fully informed of the risks involved. Tea Cake makes a habit of showering Janie with praise, and while his exact intentions cannot be certain, the reader sees Janie’s love grow for him each time, often “allowing their bodies to express the inexpressible,” physically communicating a love she never felt for Logan or Jody.
Hurston depicts Tea Cake as not simply a good or bad person, but instead as a real person who is complicated and not easily understood. At times, Tea Cake is motivated by pride, as when he refuses to leave the Everglades at first sign of the impending hurricane, prioritizing money over safety for Janie. However, in the middle of the storm, Tea Cake saves Janie from a rabid dog, ultimately sacrificing his own life in this act of love-driven heroism. After his death, Tea Cake’s memory remains unsoiled for Janie, and she believes he can never be fully dead “until she herself ha[s] finished feeling and thinking.” All in all, Tea Cake is a complicated man who is beloved by Janie and cannot fall into easy categories such as “good” or “bad.”