Although Tea Cake only appears in the last chapter of this section, he immediately draws the readers' attention and fondness.
Janie likes Tea Cake upon sight - when she doesn't know who is or, where he came from, or even his name. She sees him smiling when he comes into the store and "was in favor of the story that was making him laugh before she even heard it." From the moment she meets him, Janie is drawn to Tea Cake and feels that he is familiar to her. From the vivid physical descriptions, we can see Janie's attraction to him, but the most important aspect of their meeting that I noticed was the intellectual attraction she has for Tea Cake.
Janie has had many suitors since Joe's death, however all of them come to her with the angle that "uh woman by herself is uh pitiful thing. Dey needs aid and assistance." However when Tea Cake comes into the store, he never for a moment gives the impression that he thinks himself above Janie intellectually and in fact thinks it strange that no other man would have taught her how to play checkers because she's "got good meat on yo' head." This is a starkly different opinion than all of the other men encountered thus far in the novel who all want to abet Janie, but only for their own personal gain and would immediately try to subjugate her.
Even in just this first meeting, Tea Cake enables Janie to feel equal to him and fosters the emotions she felt in front of the pear tree years before. Obviously Tea Cake will be important in Janie's individual growth as he appears to be the type of man to enable her to be independent while still being in a loving relationship with him. However his character is curious because when Janie returns to Eatonville, Tea Cake is not with her and she says "Yeah, Pheoby, Tea Cake is gone...Ah ain't got nothing to make me happy no more where Ah was at." This raises the question of what happened to split these two up. When I read these lines, I had the impression that Tea Cake had left, which made Janie sad and gave her a reason to come back. However after reading the other posts that mentioned this line and seeing the ease with which Janie leaves her first marriage, I wonder if Janie simply felt that Tea Cake was no longer making her happy and so she left, which would be surprising considering their initial flirtatiousness and his apparent acceptance of her intelligence.
I also really agree with Tien's prediction of Janie following Robert Sternberg's Triangular Love Theory and that Tea Cake will be the culmination of this triangle, giving her all three points of the love triangle and leading to consummate love. From this one scene, we can see the passion possible between them through their flirtations, but also intimacy and commitment are there especially since Janie feels respected by Tea Cake, thus drawing her even closer to him.
Within the Hero Journey, I think that Tea Cake will be Janie's Mentor. He struck me quite clearly as this archetype because his first action is to give her new knowledge, albeit a rather simple one of learning to play checkers. Still, this simple knowledge sets a precedent for Tea Cake teaching Janie anything she doesn't know that he does; he will never turn her away from knowledge because of her gender and the stereotypes that surrounded being female at this time.