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Tea Cake made her [Janie] shoot at little things just to give her good aim. Pistol and shot gun and rifle. It got so the others stood around and watched them. Some of the men would beg for a shot at the target themselves. It was the most exciting thing on the muck. Better than the jook and the pool-room unless some special band was playing for a dance. And the thing that got everybody was the way Janie caught on. She got to the place she could shoot a hawk out of a pine tree and not tear him up. Shoot his head off. She got to be a better shot than Tea Cake. (14.14)
The idea of a woman handling weapons is a scandalous idea in the post-Civil War South. Its shock value draws many bystanders to witness this breach of gender barriers. By wielding a gun, Janie is taking on a definitively masculine role since she can now attack others and defend herself. The fact that Tea Cake teaches her how to shoot shows that he, unlike Joe, is not afraid of Janie becoming more independent than the average woman.
So the very next morning Janie got ready to pick beans along with Tea Cake. There was a suppressed murmur when she picked up a basket and went to work. She was already getting to be a special case on the muck. It was generally assumed that she thought herself too good to work like the rest of the women and that Tea Cake "pomped her up tuh dat." But all day long the romping and playing they carried on behind the boss’s back made her popular right away. It got the whole field to playing off and on. Then Tea Cake would help get supper afterwards. (14.27)
Here, both Janie and Tea Cake break gender boundaries. Janie, by coming out onto the fields to work like the other migrant men and women, shows that she can survive in a tough world, despite her prim and pampered life. By getting her hands dirty, Janie takes on the hard and dirty work often reserved for men. In return, Tea Cake "helps" her "get supper afterwards," meaning that Tea Cake forays into the feminine realm of cooking and serving. Both sacrifice typical gender roles for the sake of being with each other and expressing their love for one another.
Then Tea Cake took to popping in at the kitchen door at odd hours. Between breakfast and dinner, sometimes. Then often around two o’ clock he’d come home and tease and wrestle with her for a half hour and slip on back to work. So one day she asked him about it.
"Tea Cake, whut you doin’ back in de quarters when everybody else is still workin’?"
"Come tuh see ‘bout you. De boogerman liable tuh tote yuh off whilst Ah’m gone."
"Tain’t no boogerman got me tuh study ‘bout. Maybe you think Ah ain’t treatin’ yuh right and you watchin’ me."
"Naw, naw, Janie. Ah know better’n dat. But since you got dat in yo’ head, Ah’ll have tuh tell yuh de real truth, so yuh can know. Janie, Ah gits lonesome out dere all day ‘thout yuh. After dis, you betta come git uh job uh work out dere lak de rest uh de women – so Ah won’t be losin’ time comin’ home."
"Tea Cake, you’se uh mess! Can’t do ‘thout me dat lil time."
"Tain’t no lil time. It’s near ‘bout all day."
So the very next morning Janie got ready to pick beans along with Tea Cake. There was a suppressed murmur when she picked up a basket and went to work. She was already getting to be a special case on the much. It was generally assumed that she thought herself too good to work like the rest of the women and that Tea Cake "pomped her up tuh dat." But all day long the romping and playing they carried on behind the boss’s back made her popular right away. (14.20-27)
Tea Cake loves Janie so much that he cannot stay away from her all day, even while at work. When Janie sees that it is interrupting his work schedule, she agrees to go out into the fields and work all day beside him just to be in his company.