Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Love

By Zora Neale Hurston

Love

Chapter 2

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid. (2.14)

The pear blossoms and bee have an undeniably sexual overtone here, but it’s not sex for the sake of sex; this passage is about a display of loving intimacy. The leaf buds are described as having a "snowy virginity" whose scent sensuously "caress[es]" Janie "in her sleep." To naïve little Janie, the penetration of the bee into the bloom is a "love embrace" whose "ecstatic shiver" creates a "creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight." This sounds suspiciously like the overwhelming passion and ejaculation of sexual intercourse. And it leaves young Janie feeling "limp and languid," as a woman might after orgasming. This experience, ironically, both seems to take Janie’s virginity by introducing her so sensually to sex and also preserve her innocence by building such a romantic ideal for her future lovers to live up to.

The vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree but Janie didn’t know how to tell Nanny that. She merely hunched over and pouted at the floor. (2.39)

Janie’s ideal of love is set by her experience under the pear tree, an experience that is highly romanticized and glamorized in her 16-year-old eyes. Thus, the idea of marrying an ugly, old man for no other reason than to please Nanny is repugnant to Janie and "desecrates" her idealized vision of love.

Chapter 3
Nanny

[Nanny] "Well, if he do all dat whut you come in heah wid uh face long as mah arm for?"

"Cause you told me Ah wuz gointer love him, and, and Ah don’t. Maybe if somebody was to tell me how, Ah could do it."

"You come head wid yo’ mouf full uh foolishness on uh busy day. Heah you got uh prop tuh lean on all yo’ bawn days, and big protection, and everybody got tuh tip dey hat tuh you and call you Mis’ Killicks, and you come worryin’ me ‘bout love." (3.17-19)

Janie still considers the idea of love essential to a marriage, and she thinks that because she still doesn’t love Logan, something has gone wrong. She earnestly wants to love the man and make the marriage work, but Nanny brushes off her worries as frivolous. In Nanny’s eyes, Janie should be happy simply with her property and status as a respectably married woman; love is irrelevant.

"He don’t even never mention nothin’ pretty."

She began to cry.

"Ah wants things sweet wid mah marriage lak when you sit under a pear tree and think. Ah…" (3.26-28)

Janie’s idea of love includes sweetness, beauty, and romance, as shown to her by her pear tree experience. When Logan shows no tendencies to even try to achieve this type of immortal beauty that is necessary to Janie’s concept of love, she feels cheated.

So Janie waited a bloom time, and a green time and an orange time. But when the pollen again gilded the sun and sifted down on the world she began to stand around the gate and expect things. What things? She didn’t know exactly. Her breath was gusty and short. She knew things that nobody had ever told her. For instance, the words of the trees and the wind. She often spoke to falling seeds and said, "Ah hope you fall on soft ground," because she had heard seeds saying that to each other as they passed. She knew the world was a stallion rolling in the blue pasture of ether. She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making. (3.31)

When Janie’s marriage to Logan does not become the love match she dreamed, Janie’s thoughts return to the same nature that made her beautiful pear tree. She is still fascinated with birth and creation, as illustrated by her metaphor of the world as a stallion and her concept of God rebuilding the world every evening. She yearns and comes to "expect" these "things," as a woman who is capable of reproducing, but who is frustrated by her loveless marriage.

Janie Crawford

[Janie:] Yes, she would love Logan after they were married. She could see no way for it to come about, but Nanny and the old folks had said it, so it must be so. Husbands and wives always loved each other, and that was what marriage meant. It was just so. Janie felt glad of the thought, for then it wouldn’t seem so destructive and mouldy. She wouldn’t be lonely anymore.

[...]

But anyhow Janie went on inside to wait for love to begin. The new moon had been up and down three times before she got worried in mind. (3.1-3)

Simply because Nanny tells her so, Janie assumes that marriage entails love. She assumes that after she marries Logan, she will magically wake up one day and love him. Some might read this as a defense mechanism, something to help her justify the obvious unfairness of being forced to marry someone she doesn’t love. However, when love does not come after three months, Janie begins to doubt.

Chapter 4
Janie Crawford

[Janie]: "S’posin’ Ah wuz to run off and leave yuh sometime."

[…] The thought put a terrible ache in Logan’s body, but he thought it best to put on scorn […]

"Ah’m sleepy. Ah don’t aim to worry mah gut into a fiddlestring wid no s’posin’." He flopped over resentful in his agony and pretended sleep. He hoped that he had hurt her as she had hurt him. (4.43-49)

Even though Logan has trouble showing it in any way that Janie can understand, he does indeed love Janie and deeply fears losing her. That she would voice his deepest fear to him so casually hurts Logan so much that he wants to hurt her back out of spite. This harkens back to the idea of love as painful.

Janie pulled back a long time because he [Joe] did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance. (4.28)

Janie is wary of giving herself over too quickly to Joe because, though he is far more romantic than Logan, he does not really remind her of the ideal of love conjured by her beloved pear tree’s "sun-up and pollen and blooming trees," but he does fill her mind with all the possibilities that the "far horizon" symbolizes.

After that she came to where Joe Starks was waiting for her with a hired rig. He was very solemn and helped her to the seat beside him. With him on it, it sat like some high, ruling chair. From now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom. (4.59)

After being threatened with death by Logan, Janie runs away from her failed marriage and vows that she will have the beautiful love represented by her pear tree. She promises to herself that she will not settle for less. She sees Joe as her vehicle to this love and thus elopes with him, despite the fact that he represents the far horizon far more than her "flower dust and springtime." However, she’s so blinded by her happiness to be leaving Logan that she mistakenly thinks Joe is "a bee for her bloom."

Long before the year was up, Janie noticed that her husband had stopped talking in rhymes to her. He had ceased to wonder at her long black hair and finger it. Six months back he had told her, "If Ah kin haul de wood heah and chop it fuh yuh, look lak you oughta be able tuh tote it inside. Mah fust wife never bothered me ‘bout choppin’ no wood nohow. She’d grab dat ax and sling chips lak uh man. You done been spoilt rotten." (4.1)

Nanny’s prophecy comes true, and Logan stops kissing Janie’s feet, stops bowing down to please her, and begins expecting her to pull her own weight. Janie learns that her physical charms cannot hold a man’s interest for long and that he soon stops sweet-talking, or "talking in rhymes," to her when he finds that she has little to offer in return. Any illusion Janie had of love with Logan is destroyed.

Chapter 5

She [Janie] had never thought of making a speech, and didn’t know if she cared to make one at all. It must have been the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another that took the bloom off of things. But anyway, she went down the road behind him that night feeling cold. He strode along invested with his new dignity, thought and planned out loud, unconscious of her thoughts. (5.108)

The first sign of trouble in Janie’s second marriage comes when Joe completely cuts off Janie when she is invited to speak publicly. Though Janie does not really want to speak, she resents Joe for not even giving her the chance to reply. This quick silencing of Janie takes "the bloom off of things" or takes the romance—represented by Janie’s pear blossoms—out of the moment. This leaves her feeling "cold" when she should be flushed with warmth for love of Joe.

Chapter 6

She wasn’t petal-open anymore with him [Joe]. (6.184)

Janie falls out of love with Joe after he strikes her, and her violent disillusionment is described in terms of Janie’s pear blossoms. She is no longer Joe’s flower with her petals open to tell him all her secrets; after his violence toward her, Janie’s petals and love have closed.

Mrs. Bogle came walking down the street towards the porch. Mrs. Bogle who was many times a grandmother, but had a blushing air of coquetry about her that cloaked her sunken cheeks. You saw a fluttering fan before her face and magnolia blooms and sleepy lakes under the moonlight when she walked. There was no obvious reason for it, it was just so. Her first husband had been a coachman but "studied jury" to win her. He had finally become a preacher to hold her till his death. Her second husband worked in Fohnes orange grove—but tried to preach when he caught her eye. He never got any further than a class leader, but that was something to offer her. It proved his love and pride. She was a wind on the ocean. She moved men, but the helm determined the port. Now, this night, she mounted the steps and the men noticed her until she passed inside the door. (6.167)

Despite her old age, Mrs. Bogle has an irresistible sensuality about her; thus all her husbands have had to hold high ranks to win her hand in marriage. She treats marriage not as a matter of love, but like an economic system, where she gives her beauty and sensuality to the man who can offer her the most social prestige.

But here come Bootsie, and Teadi and Big ‘woman down the street making out they are pretty by the way they walk. They have got that fresh, new taste about them like young mustard greens in the spring, and the young men on the porch are just bound to tell them about it and buy them some treats.

"Heah come mah order right now," Charlie Jones announces and scrambles off the porch to meet them. But he has plenty of competition. A pushing, shoving show of gallantry. They all beg the girls to just buy anything they can think of. Please let them pay for it. Joe is begged to wrap up all the candy in the store and order more. All the peanuts and soda water—everything!

"Gal, Ah’m crazy ‘bout you," Charlie goes on to the entertainment of everybody. "Ah’ll do anything in the world except work for you and give you mah money." (6.143-145)

The attractive young girls entering the store have that innocence and ideal of love that Janie describes through natural imagery; she compares them to "young mustard greens in the spring." Accordingly, the young men jump to play at courting them. These young people are playing at love, flirting and testing each other out.

Janie could see Jody watching her out of the corner of his eye while he joked roughly with Mrs. Robbins. He wanted to be friendly with her again. His big, big laugh was as much for her as for the baiting. He was longing for peace but on his own terms. (6.188)

After their argument, Joe wants to make up with Janie but is too proud to say it outright. Instead, he hints at it with sidelong glances and his big, irresistible laugh. He wants love, but without making any sacrifices himself. Can there really be love without both parties making sacrifices?

Chapter 9

Besides she liked being lonesome for a change. This freedom feeling was fine. These men didn’t represent a thing she wanted to know about. She had already experienced them through Logan and Joe. She felt like slapping some of them for sitting around grinning at her like a pack of chessy cats, trying to make out they looked like love. (9.7)

Having experienced horrible failed marriages with Logan and Joe, Janie enjoys her single status for the first time in a long time. Now she knows what she wants out of a man, and she definitely knows what she doesn’t want—a pretense of love. Now that Janie has learned what love is not, she will soon learn what it is.

Chapter 10

He (Tea Cake) set it (the checkers) up and began to show her and she found herself glowing inside. Somebody wanted her to play. Somebody thought it natural for her to play. That was even nice. She looked him over and got little thrills from one of his good points. Those full, lazy eyes with the lashes curling sharply away like drawn scimitars. Then lean, over-padded shoulders and narrow waist. Even nice! (10.25)

Because Tea Cake treats Janie like an equal and an intelligent person, Janie finds herself more attracted to him. His classy treatment of her opens the door for love. Where Janie would have normally overlooked him as another suitor and continued happily in her widowhood, Tea Cake’s behavior sets him apart from the other self-absorbed men and presents Janie with a chance to finally experience the love she has pursued all her life.

Chapter 11
Vergible "Tea Cake" Woods

[Tea Cake:] "De way you looked at me when Ah said whut Ah did. Yo’ face skeered me so bad till mah whiskers drawed up."

"Ah ain’t got no business bein’ mad at nothin’ you do and say. You got it all wrong. Ah ain’t mad atall."

"Ah know it and dat’s why puts de shamery on me. You’se jus’ disgusted wid me. Yo’ face jus’ left here and went off somewhere else. Naw, you ain’t mad wid me. Ah be glad if was, ‘cause then Ah might do somethin’ tuh please yuh. But lak it is— "(11.50-52)

One of the reasons that Janie loves Tea Cake so much is that he is open with her, admitting his fear when he sees her displeasure and stating his determination to do anything to please her. Unlike Joe, Tea Cake does not silence Janie but actually listens to her and even reads into her expressions—something that Joe completely ignored.

[Tea Cake:] "Things lak dat [age] got uh whole lot tuh do wid convenience, but it ain’t got nothin’ tuh do wid love." (11.62)

Tea Cake does not care about social prescriptions over such trifles as age differences when there is real love involved. And the fact that he has the courage to address such a touchy subject directly to Janie further endears him to her.

Janie awoke next morning by feeling Tea Cake almost kissing her breath away. Holding her and caressing her as if he feared she might escape his grasp and fly away. Then he must dress hurriedly and get to his job on time. He wouldn’t let her get him any breakfast at all. He wanted her to get her rest. He made her stay where she was. In her heart she wanted to get his breakfast for him. But she stayed in bed long after he was gone.

So much had been breathed out by the pores that Tea Cake still was there. She could feel him and almost see him bucking around the room in the upper air. After a long time of passive happiness, she got up and opened the window and let Tea Cake leap forth and mount to the sky on a wind. That was the beginning of things. (11.81-82)

After spending a blissful night with Tea Cake and a lazy morning, Janie realizes how deeply she loves him. Her previous experiences with Logan and Joe have killed the innocent and childlike parts of her so she sees her relationship with Tea Cake as a chance to start anew; thus he is "the beginning of things."

All next day in the house and store she thought resisting thoughts about Tea Cake. She even ridiculed him in her mind and was a little ashamed of the association. But every hour or two the battle had to be fought all over again. She couldn’t make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom—a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God. (11.68)

Though the "proper" woman in Janie is struggling over getting involved with a man as young as Tea Cake, Janie’s heart has already been won over. In her mind’s eye, she already sees him as a bee to her pear blossom. She associates him with all the romantic natural imagery that she evokes when she thinks of her pear tree—the overwhelming "scent" of "aromatic herbs."

"Why, Tea Cake? Whut good do combin’ mah hair do you? It’s mah comfortable, not yourn."

"It’s mine too. Ah ain’t been sleepin’ so good for more’n uh week cause Ah been wishin’ so bad tuh git mah hands in yo’ hair. It’s so pretty. It feels jus’ lak underneath uh dove’s wing next to mah face." (11.37-38)

The fact that Tea Cake takes pleasure in giving pleasure to Janie endears him to her. Janie has only known selfish men who only took pleasure in pleasing themselves. Logan's and Joe’s short-lived attempts to please Janie always fell short or turned out to be only pretense. That Tea Cake can find happiness in pleasing Janie helps him win her love; his actions bring them mutual happiness.

Chapter 12
Janie Crawford

[Janie to Pheoby:] "Ah’m older than Tea Cake, yes. But he done showed me where it’s de thought dat makes de difference in ages. If people thinks de same they can make it all right. So in the beginnin’ new thoughts had tuh be thought and new words said. After Ah got used tuh dat, we gits ‘long jus’ fine. He done taught me de maiden language all over." (12.40)

Disregarding her and Tea Cake’s substantial age difference brings Janie back to something of a childhood phase, where everything feels new. This rebirthing stage requires new thoughts "tuh be thought and new words said." While her first two marriages stripped Janie of her innocence, when Janie is with Tea Cake, she feels like a child again and her innocence and maidenhood are restored, as evidenced in the "maiden language" she learns.

Chapter 13
Vergible "Tea Cake" Woods

[Janie:] "Still and all you went off and left me all day and all night."

[Tea Cake:] "Twasn’t ‘cause Ah wanted tuh stay off lak day, and it sho Lawd, wuzn’t no woman. If you didn’t have de power tuh hold me and hold me tight, Ah wouldn’t be callin’ yuh Mis’ Woods. Ah met plenty women before Ah knowed you tuh talk tuh. You’se de onliest woman in de world Ah ever even mentioned gittin married tuh. You bein’ older don’t make no difference. Don’t never consider dat no mo’. If Ah ever gits tuh messin’ round another woman it won’t be on account of her age. It’ll be because she got me in de same way you got me—so Ah can’t help mahself." (13.26-27)

Tea Cake declares his love and faithfulness to Janie. He comes out and states that Janie’s age is of no consequence to him. Tea Cake’s last sentence renders love as some sort of inexplicable force that mortal men cannot resist. Janie should be especially responsive to this because she has been swept away by passion before, first under the pear tree of her youth and now by Tea Cake.

He [Tea Cake] drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place. (13.83)

The image of Tea Cake sleeping brings on a wave of nurturing, maternal love in Janie. This love is so overwhelming and selfless that it is "self-crushing," and it puts to rest any fears Janie might have of the intensity of her love. So, this makes it safe for her battered soul to crawl "out from its hiding place" and make herself vulnerable to Tea Cake.

But it was always going to be dark to Janie if Tea Cake didn’t soon come back. (13.16)

The fact that everything would "always…be dark" if Tea Cake doesn’t return shows just how much Janie loves him. She considers him the light in her world, much like the sun that is about to set.

Chapter 14

Janie stayed home and boiled big pots of blackeyed peas and rice. Sometimes baked big pans of navy beans with plenty of sugar and hunks of bacon laying on top. That was something Tea Cake loved so no matter if Janie had fixed beans two or three times during the week, they had baked beans again on Sunday. She always had some kind of dessert too, as Tea Cake said it give a man something to taper off on. Sometimes she’d straighten out the two-room house and take the rifle and have fried rabbit for supper when Tea Cake got home. She didn’t leave him itching and scratching in his work clothes, either. The kettle of hot water was already waiting when he got in. (14.19)

Janie’s devotion to Tea Cake is all-consuming. She sets about showing her love in the only way she knows how—by making the home as welcoming as possible. She caters the dinner menu to his taste, cooking his favorite dishes and making sure to always have a hot bath drawn for him when he comes home.

Then Tea Cake took to popping in at the kitchen door at odd hours. Between breakfast and dinner, sometimes. Then often around two o’ clock he’d come home and tease and wrestle with her for a half hour and slip on back to work. So one day she asked him about it.

"Tea Cake, whut you doin’ back in de quarters when everybody else is still workin’?"

"Come tuh see ‘bout you. De boogerman liable tuh tote yuh off whilst Ah’m gone."

"Tain’t no boogerman got me tuh study ‘bout. Maybe you think Ah ain’t treatin’ yuh right and you watchin’ me."

"Naw, naw, Janie. Ah know better’n dat. But since you got dat in yo’ head, Ah’ll have tuh tell yuh de real truth, so yuh can know. Janie, Ah gits lonesome out dere all day ‘thout yuh. After dis, you betta come git uh job uh work out dere lak de rest uh de women—so Ah won’t be losin’ time comin’ home."

"Tea Cake, you’se uh mess! Can’t do ‘thout me dat lil time."

"Tain’t no lil time. It’s near ‘bout all day."

So the very next morning Janie got ready to pick beans along with Tea Cake. There was a suppressed murmur when she picked up a basket and went to work. She was already getting to be a special case on the muck. It was generally assumed that she thought herself too good to work like the rest of the women and that Tea Cake "pomped her up tuh dat." But all day long the romping and playing they carried on behind the boss’s back made her popular right away. (14.20-27)

Tea Cake loves Janie so much that he cannot stay away from her all day, even while at work. When Janie sees that it is interrupting his work schedule, she agrees to go out into the fields and work all day beside him just to be in his company.

Chapter 15

They fought on. "You done hurt mah heart, now you come wid uh lie tuh bruise mah ears! Turn go mah hands!" Janie seethed. But Tea Cake never let go. They wrestled on until they were doped with their own fumes and emanations; till their clothes had been torn away; till he hurled her to the floor and held her there melting her resistance with the heat of his body, doing things with their bodies to express the inexpressible; kissed her until she arched her body to meet him and they fell asleep in sweet exhaustion. (15.14)

Sex and love, as highlighted here, share much common ground with rage; both are to some extent founded on mutual overwhelming passion and a desire to express that passion physically.

"Whut would Ah do wid dat lil chunk of a woman wid you around? She ain’t good for nothin’ exceptin’ tuh set up in uh corner by de kitchen stove and break wood over her head. You’se something tuh make uh man forgit tuh git old and forgit tuh die." (15.18)

Tea Cake reassures Janie of his love for her and only her. He praises her beauty as mesmerizing enough to "make uh man forgit tuh git old and forgit tuh die." Her love makes Tea Cake ageless and immortal.

Chapter 16
Janie Crawford

[Janie to Mrs. Turner:] "Naw, mah husband didn’t had nothin’ but hisself. He’s easy tuh love if you mess round ‘im. Ah loves ‘im."

"Why you, Mis’ Woods! Ah don’t b’lieve it. You’se jus’ sorter hypnotized, dat’s all."

"Naw, it’s real. Ah couldn’t stand it if he wuz tuh quit me. Don’t know whut Ah’d do. He kin take most any lil thing and make summertime out of it when times is dull. Then we lives offa dat happiness he made till some mo’ happiness come along." (16.11-13)

Mrs. Turner wants to turn Janie’s eyes and affection away from Tea Cake and toward her brother. She thinks her love for Tea Cake is but a sort of hypnosis that is only effective because Janie has not yet met men of real quality. But Janie is staunch in her love and loyalty to Tea Cake.

Chapter 18

"We been tuhgether round two years. If you kind see de light at daybreak, you don’t keer if you die at dusk. It’s so many people never seen de light at all. Ah wuz fumblin’ round and God opened de door."

He dropped to the floor and put his head in her lap. "Well then, Janie, you meant whut you didn’t say, ‘cause Ah never knowed you wuz so satisfied wid me lak dat." (18.37-38)

Even in the face of death, Janie doesn’t regret anything she’s done with Tea Cake, even if doing things differently might’ve saved her life. For Janie, loving Tea Cake, even for only a short two years, has made her life worthwhile and satisfying. She characterizes Tea Cake as the sunlight in her life, and Tea Cake is amazed by the intensity of her love and devotion.

Janie achieved the tail of the cow and lifted her head up along the cow’s rump, as far as she could above water. The cow sunk a little with the added load and thrashed a moment in terror. Thought she was being pulled down by a gator. The dog stood up and growled like a lion, stiff-standing hackles, stiff muscles, teeth uncovered as he lashed up his fury for the charge. Tea Cake split the water like an otter, opening his knife as he dived. The dog raced down the backbone of the cow to the attack and Janie screamed and slipped far back on the tail of the cow, just out of reach of the dog’s angry jaws. He wanted to plunge in after her but dreaded the water, somehow. Tea Cake rose out of the water at the cow’s rump and seized the dog by the neck. But he was a powerful dog and Tea Cake was over-tired. So he didn’t kill the dog with one stroke as he had intended. But the dog couldn’t free himself either. They fought and somehow he managed to bite Tea Cake high up on his cheek-bone once. Then Tea Cake finished him and sent him to the bottom to stay there. (18.96)

Tea Cake jumps in the water to defend Janie, his true love, from the mad dog. As a result, he is bitten and eventually dies from rabies. Thus, his gallant act of love for Janie results in death. Tea Cake dies for love of Janie.

Chapter 19

Now she was her sacrificing self with Tea Cake’s head in her lap. She had wanted him to live so much and he was dead. No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep. Janie held his head tightly to her breast and wept and thanked him wordlessly for giving her the chance for loving service. She had to hug him tight for soon he would be gone, and she had to tell him for the last time. (19.153)

After the tragedy of being forced to shoot her love, Janie grievously laments his death. But most importantly, she is grateful for having had the privilege to know and love him. Janie didn’t only need to feel loved; she needed to be able to give love. Recall that on his deathbed, Janie accused Joe of not allowing her to love him.

But to kill her through Tea Cake was too much to bear. Tea Cake, the son of Evening Sun, had to die for loving her. (19.104)

Janie blames herself for Tea Cake’s upcoming death. Tea Cake got rabies because he loved Janie enough to save her from the rabid dog. Because of his love for her, he essentially sacrifices himself. Janie feels guilty for being the cause of her true love’s death.

Chapter 20
Janie Crawford

[Janie]: "Dey gointuh make ‘miration ‘cause mah love didn’t work lak they love, if dey ever had any. Then you must tell ‘em dat love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore." (20.7)

Janie lectures Pheoby that love is not a fixed thing that is the same for everyone who experiences it. Instead it is as fluid and changing as the sea, only shaped by the shores (or men) it meets. Society has a normative and inflexible idea of what love is, when actual love is different for everyone.

Janie mounted the stairs with her lamp. The light in her hand was like a spark of sun-stuff washing her face in fire. (20.11)

Janie is so immersed in thoughts of Tea Cake, her son of Evening Sun, that she thinks of the lamp in her hand as a spark from her love, lighting her face and her path so that she can see.