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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.
Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. Of course he wasn’t dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. (20.12)
Janie comes to an understanding of death that is not one of utter emptiness and sorrow, but – as her life has shown her – a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Tea Cake will always be alive for her as long as she can resurrect him with her fond memories and love. Janie, then, learns that love transcends even death.