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Themes

In this novel, death is presented as both the traditional ending of a life and cause for grief. However, it also has a positive connotation; death is not merely an end, but the start of a new beginning. Death is often paired with an experience of rebirth. The novel also views death as a spiritual context, presenting the dying moment as a time of divine judgment. Dying is not so frightening for those who feel that they have lived a good and full life. On the contrary, characters with unrepented sins tend to fear death and attempt to fight it.

Questions About Mortality

  1. Why is it appropriate that the novel begins with Janie returning from the dead – the corpses of the hurricane? Think of this in terms of the book’s ending – the death of Tea Cake.
  2. How is death depicted as a natural process? What specific instances of death in nature recur again and again in the novel?
  3. How is death related to transformation and transitions between one phase of life to another?
  4. Consider Janie’s personification of Death as "square-toed," wielding a "soulless sword" and living in a house with no walls. What do these traits signify about Death?
  5. How is death not really an ending, but a chance for rebirth? Apply this to both the literal and metaphoric deaths in Janie’s story. How does Janie come to accept Tea Cake’s death?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Death is a positive force in Janie’s life because it always results in a positive new beginning.

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