The protagonist of the novel. Janie defies categorization: she is black but flaunts her Caucasian-like straight hair, which comes from her mixed ancestry; she is a woman but defies gender stereotypes by insisting on her independence and wearing overalls. Behind her defiance are a curiosity and confidence that drive her to experience the world and become conscious of her relation to it. Part of Janie’s maturity rests in her ability to realize that others’ cruelty toward her or their inability to understand her stems not from malice but from their upbringing or limited perspective.
Janie’s third husband and first real love. Twelve years younger than Janie, Tea Cake impresses her with his quick wit and zest for living. But behind the flash, he has a real affection for, and understanding of, Janie. He doesn’t try to force Janie to be anything other than herself, and he treats her with respect. He is not without faults, however; he does steal from her once and beat her. These reprehensible incidents, though, make him a more real character than one who possesses only idealized positive qualities.
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Janie’s second husband. Joe Starks—or Jody, as Janie calls him—travels from Georgia to Eatonville to satisfy his ambition and hunger for power. A consummate politician and businessman, he becomes the postmaster, mayor, storekeeper, and biggest landlord in Eatonville. But he treats Janie as an object rather than a person, and their marriage deteriorates.
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Janie’s first husband. Nanny arranges Janie’s marriage to Logan because she values financial security and respectability over love. Logan pampers Janie for a year before he tries to make her help him with the farming work. Feeling used and unloved, Janie leaves him for Jody Starks.
Janie’s best friend in Eatonville. Pheoby gives Janie the benefit of the doubt when the townspeople gossip viciously about Janie. She is the audience for Janie’s story and her presence is occasionally felt in the colloquial speech that the narrator mixes in with a more sophisticated narrative style.
Janie’s grandmother. Nanny’s experience as a slave stamped her worldview with a strong concern for financial security, respectability, and upward mobility. These values clash with Janie’s independence and desire to experience the world, though Janie comes to respect Nanny’s values and decisions as well intended.
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Everglades residents who run a small restaurant. Mrs. Turner prides herself on her Caucasian features and disdains anyone with a more African appearance. She worships Janie because of
Pheoby’s husband. Sam Watson is a source of great humor and wisdom during the conversations on Jody’s porch. When a few Eatonville residents begin to express their resentment toward Jody, Sam acknowledges that Jody can be overbearing and commanding but points out that Jody is responsible for many improvements in the town.
Janie’s mother. Leafy was born shortly before the end of the Civil War and ran away after giving birth to Janie.
A resident of Eatonville, Florida. Hicks is one of the first people to meet Janie and Jody. He tries unsuccessfully to lure Janie away from Jody.
One of Tea Cake and Janie’s friends in the Everglades. Motor Boat flees the hurricane with them and weathers the storm in an abandoned house.
The delivery boy and assistant shopkeeper at Jody’s store. After Jody’s death, Hezekiah begins to mimic Jody’s affectations.
A friendly white doctor who is well known in the muck.
A young man whom Janie kisses when she starts to feel sexual desires at age sixteen. This incident prompts Nanny to force Janie to marry the more socially respectable Logan Killicks.
A wealthy widow who lived in Eatonville, and her much younger fiancé, who took her money and fled at the first opportunity. Early in her marriage to Tea Cake, Janie fears that he will turn out to be like Who Flung and that she will end up like Annie Tyler.
Nanny’s employers after she became a free woman. Nanny lived in a house in the Washburn’s backyard, and they helped raise Janie with their own children.
A girl in the Everglades who flirts relentlessly with Tea Cake. Janie grows extremely jealous of Nunkie, but after Tea Cake reassures her that Nunkie means nothing to him, Nunkie disappears from the novel.