Monday, March 2, 2009

Internal Conflict: Janie

(This contains some plot spoilers, so if you have not finished reading the book, you probably should not read this post yet.)

While trying to save Janie, Tea Cake is bitten by a dog with rabies, and he himself ends up getting the disease. Although Janie tries to take care of him, Tea Cake becomes mentally deranged. This leads to a confrontation which results in Janie killing Tea Cake. I found it interesting that Zora Neale Hurston does not describe Janie’s thoughts as she makes her decision to kill Tea Cake. The narrator describes why Tea Cake shoots Janie. But for Janie, this choice is not explained directly.

The sign of a strong internal conflict when Janie is facing the mad Tea Cake is apparent because Janie does not run after Tea Cake first points the gun at her. She has already set up the gun so that it will not actually shoot until after the third click. She probably can outrun the gun (especially while Tea Cake is in the outhouse). Instead, Janie chooses to stay home, partially due to her concern about his health.

On one side of this conflict is Janie’s love for Tea Cake. When Tea Cake hits her because he is jealous about Mrs. Turner’s brother, Janie can only cling onto him. Similarly, after Janie learns that Tea Cake has rabies, she refuses the doctor’s suggestion to place Tea Cake in a hospital. Even when she discovers that Tea Cake has a pistol under his pillow, Janie is concerned about his health and thinks “she ought not to let poor sick Tea Cake do something that would run him crazy when he found out what he had done” (182). Killing Tea Cake will probably be like killing a part of herself.

Opposed to Janie’s love for Tea Cake is probably her desire to protect herself. However little importance she places on this mentally, I imagine that as a human, she has a propensity for caring about herself. In addition to this, Janie probably realizes how serious the disease is. Although she has sent for medicine, the doctor tells her that Tea Cake should have had those shots right after the bite. Since it is already three weeks after the event, there is a likely possibility that he will die. Perhaps Janie also thinks that she should put him out of his misery. The judge suggests this motive when he says Janie “did a great act of mercy” (188) when she kills Tea Cake. Lastly, there is the possibility that she realizes that however difficult it will be, she can live without Tea Cake. Beforehand, Tea Cake makes many of the decisions when they are together. He chooses to go to the Everglades. He suggests that she learn how to shoot. However, I think by shooting Tea Cake, Janie is demonstrating her personal growth. It would probably be easier for her to be killed by Tea Cake if she is not mentally strong. If she depends on Tea Cake to live, she certainly would not be having such an intense internal conflict. If she can shoot Tea Cake (whom she knows is suffering), she will be showing her independence from others.

By examining these two opposing sides, it is apparent that Janie’s decision to kill Tea Cake is very difficult to make. In the end, Janie and Tea Cake both shoot at about the same time, and Tea Cake ends up dying. This obviously has an impact on Janie, who decides to return to Eatonville because the Everglades become simply muck when Tea Cake is not there. However, I feel that Janie is really able to become independent with this act. As she herself says, by the end of the book, she has had many experiences and is now able to find peace.

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