Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 16

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Chapter 16

  • After the harvest, the migrant workers leave in droves, but Janie and Tea Cake decide to stay.
  • Janie becomes friends with a woman named Mrs. Turner, who is of mixed heritage, much like Janie. Even though Mrs. Turner isn’t beautiful (she’s slightly deformed), she takes pride in her own appearance because she thinks it sets her apart from the other black people.
  • Mrs. Turner decides to befriend Janie because Janie is also fair-skinned.
  • In her conversation with Mrs. Turner, Janie learns that the woman is weirdly racist: she's anti-black and resents having to live with them. She really feels above black people and likes to think of herself as practically white because of her mixed blood. Mrs. Turner thinks that her new friend Janie should feel the same way.
  • Mrs. Turner wants Janie to ditch Tea Cake (whom she thinks is too dark) and marry her brother, a scholar who has perfectly straight hair and freely criticizes Booker T. Washington. She arranges for Janie and her brother to meet, but Janie reminds the woman that she's already married and isn’t interested in any man but her husband.
  • Tea Cake overhears the whole conversation. Janie reassures him that she's happy with him and has no intention of marrying Mrs. Turner’s brother.
  • Tea Cake hates Mrs. Turner and doesn’t want her hanging around his house.
  • Tea Cake meets Mr. Turner and his son one day on the street. Mr. Turner is described as a "vanishing-looking kind of man" whose features were "dwindled and blurred." Tea Cake learns that Mr. Turner doesn’t approve of his wife’s behavior, either, but can’t do anything about it.
  • From Mr. Turner, Tea Cake also learns that the Turners have had bad luck with childbirth—they lost several children at birth and only have one son.
  • Mrs. Turner is extremely racist in her perspective on black and white people. She sees white people as gods and black people as worshippers.
  • She "worships" Janie to a certain extent because Janie has more white features than she does. And, even if Janie treats her badly and doesn’t encourage her, Mrs. Turner admires Janie the more for it, thinking that gods and idols shouldn’t always be nice to those below them. In Mrs. Turner’s mind, Janie’s snubs prove that she’s worth worshipping.
  • In her mixed-up racist-religious scheme, Mrs. Turner hopes that worshipping white people will gain her admittance into a heaven of white people.
  • As part of her idolization of white people and white features, Mrs. Turner fervently hates black people, especially Tea Cake, because she sees them as "desecrators" of her faith.
  • Janie tries to discourage Mrs. Turner from visiting, but she is persistent. Janie and Tea Cake simply ignore her for most of the fallow season.
  • The chapter ends with the migrant workers returning again with the onset of the planting season.

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