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[Tea Cake to Janie]: "Jes lak uh lil girl wid her Easter dress on. Even nice!" He locked the door and shook it to be sure and handed her the key. "Come on now, Ah’ll see yuh inside yo’ door and git on down de Dixie." (10.60)
Even though Tea Cake tries to treat men and women equally, he still unconsciously considers women weaker than men; he assumes they require men to escort them back home safely. He calls Janie a "lil girl wid her Easter dress on," somewhat diminishing her image and seriousness. Though chivalric, Tea Cake’s language and offer to walk Janie home might be read as sexist. Or we could read it as his way of attempting to get an invitation to come inside her home.
He (Tea Cake) set it (the checkers) up and began to show her and she found herself glowing inside. Somebody wanted her to play. Somebody thought it natural for her to play. That was even nice. She looked him over and got little thrills from one of his good points. Those full, lazy eyes with the lashes curling sharply away like drawn scimitars. Then lean-over-padded shoulders and narrow waist. Even nice! (10.25)
Because Tea Cake treats Janie like an equal and intelligent person, Janie finds herself more attracted to him. His classy treatment of her opens the door for love. Where Janie would have normally overlooked him as another suitor and continued happily in her widowhood, Tea Cake’s behavior sets him apart from the other self-absorbed men and presents Janie with a chance to finally experience the love she has pursued all her life.
"Evenin’, Mis’ Starks. Could yuh lemme have uh pound uh knuckle puddin’ till Saturday? Ah’m sho uh pay tuh then."
"You needs ten pounds, Mr. Tea Cake. Ah’ll let yuh have all Ah got and you needn’t bother ‘bout payin’ it back." (10.54-55)
Tea Cake and Janie jest in words, playing on the idea of "knuckle puddin’" being both a foodstuff and a beating with the fists. Tea Cake, realizing he is in the doghouse for being a little too flirtatious with Janie, requests that Janie beat him with her fists as punishment. Janie, recognizing the pun, returns it, saying that she’ll give him more than he asked for and that he need to pay it back (beat her in return). Joe would never have engaged in this type of wordplay with Janie, because the verbal sparring implies that the speakers are equal. Joe wouldn’t even play checkers with her, let alone talk to her as an equal.