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After Jody’s elaborate funeral, Janie begins her period of mourning. On the inside she feels released and joyous, but she maintains a sad face for the outside world. The only noticeable change is that she begins wearing her hair in a long braid again, having burned all of her head rags. Now that she is alone, she begins to examine her feelings and realizes that she hates Nanny for the values with which Nanny raised her. Nanny taught her to seek superficial prizes such as wealth, security, and status instead of chasing her dreams.
Soon, men begin approaching Janie; as an attractive and wealthy woman, she would make quite a prize. Despite these constant advances, Janie’s six months of mourning pass without any suitor making progress. Janie’s newfound freedom and independence make her happy, and she has no desire to become tied down to another man. Her only source of unhappiness is the store, which she continues to run. She feels Jody’s domineering presence everywhere. Eventually Hezekiah Potts begins to imitate Jody, but his mimicry is only amusing, not threatening. As per custom, Janie begins wearing white after six months, supposedly signaling her availability for suitors. But she continues to rebuff all advances and confides in Pheoby that she loves her new independence. Pheoby responds that the townspeople will think that she isn’t sad that Jody is dead. Janie replies that she doesn’t care what the town thinks because she shouldn’t pretend to be sad if she isn’t.
One day, Hezekiah leaves the store early to go to a baseball game. Janie decides to close up early, since most of the town is at the game. But before she can do so, a tall stranger enters the store. He buys cigarettes from her and then begins making flirtatious small talk, making her laugh with his jokes. He invites her to play checkers, which thrills her; no man has ever respected her enough to ask her to play checkers. She notices his good looks and shapely body.
Janie and the stranger play a good-natured game and continue their flirtation. Afterward, they chat some more and Janie asks him how he plans to get home. He answers that he always finds a way home, even if that requires sneaking onto a train illegally. She finally asks his name, and he replies that it is Vergible Woods but that everyone calls him Tea Cake. He pretends to leave but makes Janie laugh with a playful, imaginative joke, and he stays around. They continue to joke and laugh until the store fills with people returning from the game, and they talk until everyone goes home for the night. He helps her lock up the store, walks her to her porch, and chastely bids her good night.
Chapters 9 and 10 mark the beginning of Janie’s liberation. First, she learns how to be alone. Then, Tea Cake’s arrival brings her to a second stage in her development, as she begins to see what kind of relationship she wants and how it will help her attain her dreams. Throughout Chapter 9, Janie brims with independence and strength. We see her with her hair down, the symbol of her potency free and unfettered. Additionally, this chapter is full of Janie’s voice. Unlike the previous chapters, in which Jody forcibly keeps her silent, Janie is now full of conversation: she talks to Ike Green, Hezekiah, and Pheoby, all the while asserting her own desires.
As Janie enjoys her newfound freedom of speech, she becomes more introspective and self-aware. In previous chapters, Janie distances herself from her emotions in order to survive with Jody. Now, however, she confronts feelings that have lain dormant for almost two decades. She realizes, somewhat to our surprise, that she hates her grandmother for raising her according to a flawed belief system that values materialism and social status. Janie understands that while people are what matter to her, she had been raised to value things. Nevertheless, she has a mature enough understanding of life not to blame Nanny; she understands that Nanny impressed these values upon her out of love. As with Jody, evil is localized not so much in a person as in a broader set of beliefs. Nanny is not really a villain; she is merely misguided by a flawed way of looking at the world.