Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 19 Quotes
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Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
He steadied himself against the jamb of the door and Janie thought to run into him and grab his arm, but she saw the quick motion of taking aim and heard the click. Saw the ferocious look in his eyes and went mad with fear as she had done in the water that time. She threw up the barrel of the rifle in frenzied hope and fear. Hope that he’d see it and run, desperate fear for her life. But if Tea Cake could have counted costs he would not have been there with the pistol in his hands. No knowledge of fear nor rifles nor anything else was there. He paid no more attention to the pointing gun than if it were Janie’s dog finer. She saw him stiffen himself all over as he leveled and took aim. The fiend in him must kill and Janie was the only thing living he saw. (19.151)
The creature in Tea Cake’s body has no fear of death and thus cannot be fully human, or even mortal. Janie, on the other hand, does fear death, and tries to scare Tea Cake with her gun. Unfortunately, she actually has to use the gun and kill Tea Cake because he’s become a "fiend [that] must kill."
The pistol and the rifle rang out almost together. The pistol just enough after the rifle to seem its echo. Tea Cake crumpled as his bullet buried itself in the joist over Janie’s head. Janie saw the look on his face and leaped forward as he crashed forward in her arms. She was trying to hover him as he closed his teeth in the flesh of her forearm. They came down heavily like that. Janie struggled to a sitting position and pried the dead Tea Cake’s teeth from her arm. (19.152)
Death seems impending for both Tea Cake and Janie; one must die for the other to live. And, ironically, it is Tea Cake’s marksmanship training with Janie that saves her. However, she is not completely out of danger; Tea Cake uses his dying strength to make a second attempt at killing Janie by biting her. This is a bit like Joe, who used his dying breath to curse Janie and wish her death.
She was in the courthouse fighting something and it wasn’t death. It was worse than that. It was lying thoughts. She had to go way back to let them know how she and Tea Cake had been with one another so they could see she could never shoot Tea Cake out of malice.
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. (19.169; 174)
To Janie, falsehood – especially in words – is the worst sin there is. It is to be feared more than death for it can malign a good man’s name – his spirit, his soul – undeservedly for all of eternity if allowed to stand unchallenged.