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It was not death she feared. It was misunderstanding. If they made a verdict that she didn’t want Tea Cake and wanted him dead, then that was a real sin and a shame. It was worse than murder. (19.174)
To Janie, death is a more merciful sentence than having her words twisted and misunderstood. The idea that she would actually hate Tea Cake enough to kill him is a blatant lie and Janie hates falsehoods more than she hates death. To Janie, honest words are the ultimate virtue.
"Janie, whut is dat Tuner woman’s brother doin’ back on de muck?"
"Ah don’t know, Tea Cake. Didn’t even knowed he wuz back."
"Accordin’ tuh mah notion, you did. Whut you slip off from me just now for?"
"Tea Cake, Ah don’t lak you astin’ me no sich question. Dat shows how sick you is sho nuff. You’se jealous ‘thout me givin’ you cause."
"Well, whut didja slip off from de house ‘thout tellin’ me you wuz goin’. You ain’t never done dat befo’."
"Dat wuz cause Ah wuz tryin’ not tuh let yuh worry ‘bout yo’ condition. De doctah sent after some mo’ medicine and Ah went tuh see if it come." (19.117-122)
Tea Cake’s little store of natural jealousy is amplified and exaggerated by the rabies. No matter what Janie tells him, no matter how reasonable her alibi is, he won’t listen. He fixates obsessively on the idea that Janie is cheating on him. Eventually, his jealousy is so strong and un-tempered by rational and humane thought (because of the disease) that he tries to kill her.
[Janie]: "…Ah jus’ uh ole woman dat nobody don’t want but you."
"Naw, you ain’t neither. You only sound ole when you tell folks when you wuz born, but wid de eye you’se young enough tuh suit most any man. Dat ain’t no lie. Ah knows plenty mo’ men would take yuh and work hard fuh de privilege. Ah done heard ‘em talk." (19.124-125)
Tea Cake takes Janie’s remark, which did not even explicitly refer to appearance, and turns it into something about her beauty. Tea Cake uses her good looks and youthful appearance to justify his jealousy, which is the last thing that Janie wants. So again, are Janie’s good looks a curse or a blessing?