Tea Cake Woods is Janie’s true love. He wins Janie’s heart with his carefree, fun-loving nature. She adores his energy and willingness to make her his equal. We see that Tea Cake is fundamentally different from Janie’s former lovers when he teaches her how to play checkers. The fact that he considers her intelligent enough to learn such a game shows that he has a more modern conception of women than Logan and Joe.
This sense of gender equality continues when Tea Cake asks Janie to work alongside him in the Everglade fields. Both of Janie’s earlier husbands wanted her to work too, but she resented it. The difference is that Logan wanted Janie to do hard labor because he thought of her as an object – like a work horse – to dominate and utilize. Joe wanted Janie to work in the store, which she also disliked because Joe did little work himself and through forcing her to work he mostly wanted to publicly display her as his trophy wife and to prove that he was the boss of her. Tea Cake’s attitude about Janie working is completely different. To begin with, he gives her the choice of working and doesn’t command her. Secondly, his reasons for wanting her to work are so that they can share more time and experiences together. In working together, Tea Cake doesn’t see Janie as an object, but as a partner and companion.
Another characteristic that distinguishes Tea Cake from Janie’s previous husbands is his willingness to both talk and listen. These were the most fundamental flaws in Logan and Joe. Logan did not express himself and Joe would not listen to Janie. Tea Cake does both, and because of this steady flow of communication, he and Janie are able to talk out and resolve their problems. Equally importantly, they both reassure each other of their love on a regular basis. However, Tea Cake has a seed of jealousy in him, which is enhanced when he catches rabies from the mad dog.
Tea Cake might be considered a tragic hero because his pride kept him from leaving the Everglades when signs of the oncoming hurricane were evident. Pride also kept him from calling on a doctor when he desperately needed care. He pays dearly for this mistake and eventually dies at the hands of his wife. Hurston makes it obvious that during his last few hours alive, Tea Cake is not there; he has been replaced by some monstrous, bloodthirsty creature. The legacy of Tea Cake, then, remains untarnished.