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Tea Cake doesn’t come back for a week, and Janie, thinking that he is taking advantage of her wealth, decides to be rude to him when he shows up. But when he finally comes by, his fanciful joking—he pretends to play an imaginary guitar—immediately makes Janie smile. They flirt and play checkers again, and then Tea Cake walks Janie home. They sit on her porch and talk for hours, eating cake and drinking fresh lemonade. As late as it is, Tea Cake proposes that they go fishing. They stay out the rest of the night at the lake, and in the morning, Janie has to sneak Tea Cake out of town to avoid gossip. She loves the impetuous adventure of the whole evening.
The next day, Hezekiah tells Janie that Tea Cake is too low for a woman like her; Janie, however, doesn’t care. Tea Cake returns that night and they eat a dinner of fresh fish. Afterward, Janie falls asleep in Tea Cake’s lap and wakes up to find him brushing her hair. They talk for a while, and Tea Cake says that he fears that Janie thinks that he is a scoundrel. Janie tells him that she likes him, but as a good friend, not as a lover. Crushed, Tea Cake says that he feels more strongly about her than she apparently does about him. Janie doesn’t believe him, thinking that he can’t possibly be attracted to someone so much older than him. She tells him that he will feel different in the morning. Tea Cake leaves abruptly.
The next day, Janie anxiously frets about Tea Cake, who doesn’t return. The day after that, however, he wakes her up by knocking on her door. He says that he has to leave for work but that he wanted to let her know that his feelings for her are real. That night, Janie finds Tea Cake waiting for her in her hammock. They eat dinner and he spends the night. The next morning, he leaves. Janie is again filled with desperate fears that Tea Cake has simply taken advantage of her. But he returns after three days, driving a beat-up car, and says that he wants to make their relationship public; he bought the car because he wants to take her to the big town picnic.
After the picnic, Tea Cake and Janie become the topic of scandalous gossip. The town doesn’t approve of the revered mayor’s widow dating a poor, younger man. Sam Watson convinces Pheoby to talk to Janie so that she doesn’t end up like Ms. Tyler, an old widow who was cheated by a younger man. Pheoby tells Janie that Tea Cake is too low for her, but Janie replies that while Jody wanted her to act pretentious and high-class, Tea Cake treats her as she wants to be treated. Pheoby warns that Tea Cake may be using her for her money and tells Janie that she has stopped mourning for Jody too soon. Janie dismisses these admonitions, saying she shouldn’t mourn if she is not sad. Janie then reveals that she plans to sell the store, leave town, and marry Tea Cake. She explains that she doesn’t want the town to compare Tea Cake to Jody. She also says that she has lived her grandmother’s way and now wants to live her own way. She adds that augmented status seemed like the ultimate achievement to a former slave like Nanny but that she, Janie, is searching for something deeper. Pheoby cautions her once more to be careful with Tea Cake, but then the two women laugh and share in Janie’s newfound happiness.
Chapter 11 deepens our understanding of Janie’s attraction to Tea Cake. By the end of this chapter, Janie has begun to see him in mystical terms and has developed a conscious sense that he is the partner that she needs in order to travel to the horizon. Chapter 12 contrasts Janie’s attachment to Tea Cake with her relationship to the town as a whole and further explores Janie’s personal growth. Through her conversation with Pheoby Watson, we see that Janie has a clearer idea now than ever before of who she is and what she wants.
In Chapter 12, we see how Janie’s relationship with Tea Cake has superceded her desire to interact with the community around her. In Chapter 6, when Janie hungers to join the world of the porch-talkers, the community life of the town seems to offer the interaction missing from her isolated life with Jody. But Tea Cake now shows her an intimacy that she considers far more valuable. Whereas, earlier, the opinion of the town means a great deal to Janie, she has now gained such an amount of self-confidence and has been exposed to such a fulfilling relationship that she is able to dismiss the petty gossip of the town around her. The community, on the other hand, resents Janie and Tea Cake’s relationship precisely because it replaces the intimacy that the community offers; with Tea Cake, Janie has found a connection much deeper and truer than that which the porch offers.