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Tea Cake found that he was part of a small army that had been pressed into service to clear the wreckage in public places and bury the dead. Bodies had to be searched out, carried to certain gathering places and buried. Corpses were not just found in wrecked homes. They were under houses, tangled in shrubbery, floating in water, hanging in trees, drifting under wreckage.
Trucks lined with drag kept rolling in from the ‘Glades and other outlying parts, each with its load of twenty-five bodies. Some bodies fully dressed, some naked and some in all degrees of dishevelment. Some bodies with calm faces and satisfied hands. Some dead with fighting faces and eyes flung wide open in wonder. Death had found them watching, trying to see beyond seeing. (19.22-23)
Tea Cake’s involvement with the mass burial effort is not just a job, but a survey of people in their final moments. They are found in every type of place, in every condition, and with every imaginable expression on their faces. But Tea Cake is struck by those that seem to accept death peacefully, and those others who fight death to the very end – fearing it and all the terrifying possibilities that it might bring.
"Shucks! Nobody can’t tell nothin’ ‘bout some uh dese bodies, de shape dey’s in. Can’t tell whether dey’s white or black." (19.30)
Death is a great equalizer in another, more ghastly way. It mangles the corpses’ bodies so that they are unrecognizable; even their skin color is imperceptible. Though Death tries to show the living that everyone is equal, the living insist on imposing meaningless standards – such as skin color and social status – on the senseless corpses.
[Janie]: "You mean he’s liable tuh die, doctah?"
[Doctor Simmons]: "’Sho is. But de worst thing is he’s liable tuh suffer somethin’ awful befo’ he goes." (19.96-97)
This is the second husband that Janie will lose to death. Both Joe and Tea Cake should have been sought medical treatment before their illnesses reached a critical stage, but both were too proud to do so. In the end, such reckless behavior not only kills them, but forces them and their loving wife (Janie) to "suffer somethin’ awful" before they die. Sadly, both deaths were utterly preventable.