Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 18

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Chapter 18

  • Janie notices some Native Americans of the Seminole tribe trekking east through town. She asks them where they are going. They answer that they are seeking higher ground because a hurricane is coming.
  • Most of the workers don’t believe there will be a hurricane because the white men aren’t moving. They ignore all of the warning signs—the animals migrating east in droves, the strangely calm weather.
  • When Tea Cake is given a chance to hitch a ride east with one of his Bahamian friends, he refuses. Like most of the other workers, he has decided to stay.
  • That night, the migrant workers hold a massive party, complete with storytelling, singing, dancing, cards, and gambling. Tea Cake gets caught up in a game against Motor Boat.
  • Meanwhile, the weather continues to worsen.
  • Lake Okeechobee begins to roil, and the sun can’t be seen though morning has set in.
  • At this point, Tea Cake and Motor Boat finally stop competing, and they listen to the howling wind outside.
  • They finally realize that a furious hurricane is approaching.
  • Tea Cake, in his own way, asks forgiveness of Janie. She tells him she'd rather die with him in the coming storm than to have stayed in Eatonville and never met him.
  • Fear overtakes the couple, and they watch the sky and question whether God is going to let them die. Here, we see the phrase that is the namesake of the book: "They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God."
  • The house starts to flood. Tea Cake decides to make a break for it. He tells Janie to wrap up all their money and insurance papers to keep them from getting wet.
  • The car is nowhere to be found so they have to walk to higher ground. Janie, terribly frightened, wants to stay in their shack and sit it out, but Tea Cake convinces her to move.
  • The three of them—Janie, Tea Cake, and Motor Boat—run for higher ground.
  • They see the true awesome power of the storm behind them; the lake has swollen and is flooding the entire area. The wind blows at 200 mph.
  • Some of the fleeing workers drown.
  • After a brief respite in an abandoned house, Tea Cake decides they must continue on and get to higher ground.
  • Motor Boat, however, has given up. He elects to stay in the house, sleep, and depend on luck. Tea Cake tries to argue with him, but to no avail.
  • Janie and Tea Cake strike out on their own. They must swim through the flood to reach safety. Janie isn't a strong swimmer and Tea Cake has to hold her up. This exhausts both of them. By the time they reach a stopping point—the bridge at Six Mile Bend—fleeing workers have crowded it so there's no room to stand.
  • Janie and Tea Cake have to walk on.
  • Death is everywhere. Tea Cake is too exhausted to stand and collapses.
  • Janie spots a piece of tar-paper roofing nearby and thinks it could provide a makeshift roof for poor Tea Cake. However, when she grabs the roofing, it acts like a gigantic kite, catching the wind and blowing her out into the raging water.
  • Nearby, a cow is slowly swimming in the flood with a massive dog sitting on its back and shivering. Tea Cake yells for Janie to grab onto the cow’s tail to be dragged to safety.
  • Janie manages to grab onto the cow, but the dog on the cow’s back tries to attack her. The dog, however, is afraid of the water and cannot reach Janie.
  • Seeing the ferocious dog, Tea Cake comes to Janie’s rescue.
  • Tea Cake kills the dog with his knife, but not before being bitten once on the cheekbone. The narrator makes it apparent that if Tea Cake had possessed his full strength, he could’ve killed the dog in one stroke, without getting bitten. This will prove to be fateful later.
  • Janie and Tea Cake reach safety on higher ground, and they stop to rest.
  • The next day, they reach Palm Beach just as the storm peters out. With their money, they acquire a place to sleep.
  • Janie insists on finding a doctor for Tea Cake’s bite, but he refuses—he just wants to rest.
  • They discuss how fierce the dog was. Janie describes the animal as "pure hate" and calls Tea Cake "twice noble" for saving her.
  • When Tea Cake feels sorry for himself for bringing all this disaster upon her, Janie reassures him of her love.

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