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Tea Cake had been working several hours when the thought of Janie worrying about him made him desperate. So when a truck drove up to be unloaded he bolted and ran. He was ordered to halt on pain of being shot at, but he kept right on and got away. He found Janie say and crying just as he had thought. They calmed each other about his absence then Tea Cake brought up another matter.
"Janie, us got tuh git outa dis ouse and outa dis man’s town. Ah don’t mean tuh work lak dat no mo’." (19.33-34)
Tea Cake’s brief stint of forced labor at gunpoint by white men harkens readers back to the days of slavery when black people were forced to work. But since Tea Cake isn’t a slave and he can exercise some free will, he means to make sure that he’s not pushed around anymore. Forced labor was completely degrading for Tea Cake; he’s a free man and wants to be able to act like it.
"Aw you know dem white mens wuzn’t gointuh do nothin’ tuh no woman dat look lak her."
"She didn’t kill no white man, did she? Well, long as she don’t shoot no white man she kin kill jus’ as many niggers as she please."
"Yeah, de nigger women kin kill up all de mens dey wants tuh, but you bet’ not kill one uh dem. De white folks will sho hang yuh if yuh do."
"Well, you know whut dey say ‘uh white man and uh nigger woman is de freest thing on earth.’ Dey do as dey please." (19.178-181)
Paradoxically, the most confined creatures according to Hurston – black women – are construed to be as free as white men – the freest of all mankind. Is this really true? It’s interesting that the men think this way while we, the reader, have seen what a confined life Janie lived before she was married to Tea Cake.
Soon everything around downstairs was shut and fastened. Janie mounted the stairs with her lamp…Now, in her room, the place tasted fresh again. The wind through the open windows had broomed out all the fetid feeling of absence and nothingness. (20.11)
This passage alternates between images of enclosed spaces and wide open ones. But here, nothing feels trapped. Janie has returned to the home that Joe once trapped her in, but even though the downstairs is "shut and fastened," it feels cozy and comforting instead of claustrophobic. Upstairs, the open windows give the room a sense of largeness which, paradoxically, does not feel empty. Instead, it makes Janie feel free.