Tea Cake made a lot of fun about Mrs. Turner’s shape behind her back. He claimed that she had been shaped up by a cow kicking her from behind….
But Mrs. Turner’s shape and features were entirely approved by Mrs. Turner. Her nose was slightly pointed and she was proud. Her thin lips were an ever delight to her eyes. Even her buttocks in bas-relief were a source of pride. To her way of thinking all these things set her aside from Negroes.
Through the narrator, we learn that Mrs. Turner is mixed race and has many Caucasian physical features. These make her look different from many in her community and unattractive to Tea Cake. We learn, however, that the features that make Mrs. Turner look more typically Caucasian are the features of which Mrs. Turner is proudest. She is racist against blacks and wants to set herself apart from black people any way she can.
“You got mo’ nerve than me. Ah jus’ couldn’t see mahself married to no black man. It’s too many black folks already. We oughta lighten up the race.”
Mrs. Turner’s racist remarks against black people are complicated by the fact that she is mixed race herself. She expresses these thoughts to Janie, who also has some Caucasian ancestry, but who is happily married to the much darker Tea Cake. Mrs. Turner thinks mixed-race people like herself and Janie have a duty to limit or even eliminate blackness.
“Ah done sent fuh mah brother tuh come down and spend uh while wid us. He’s sorter outa work now. Ah wants yuh tuh meet him mo’ special. You and him would make up uh swell couple if you wuzn’t already married. He’s uh fine carpenter, when he kin git anything tuh do.”
Despite acknowledging that Janie is married, Mrs. Turner expresses her hopes that Janie will leave Tea Cake for her brother. Mrs. Turner believes these two will make a better couple because she disapproves of Tea Cake’s blackness and she wants her brother to be with the light-skinned Janie. The fact that Tea Cake is hard working while her brother is “outa work” definitely does not factor into Mrs. Turner’s calculations.
Mrs. Turner, like all other believers had built an altar to the unattainable—Caucasian features for all. Her god would smite her, would hurl her from pinnacles and lose her in deserts, but she would not forsake his altars. Behind her crude words was a belief that she and others could attain her paradise—a heaven of straight-haired, thin-lipped, high-nose boned white seraphs. The physical impossibilities in no way injured faith.
The narrator here compares Mrs. Turner’s worship of whiteness and hatred of blackness to a religion. Mrs. Turner hopes for a miracle—to become white—despite its complete impossibility. Her beliefs are illogical and yet she continues to have faith despite never-ending disappointment.
Mrs. Turner got up off the floor hollering for the police. Look at her place! How come nobody didn’t call the police? . . . Two or three people who were not there during the fracas poked their heads in at the door to sympathize but that made Mrs. Turner madder. She told them where to go in a hurry.
A fight has broken out at the Turners’ restaurant, resulting in a big mess and Mrs. Turner being injured. This violent act is the last straw for Mrs. Turner. She doesn’t like being around all of these black people anyway, although she is happy to make money off of them, so she decides to return to Miami. As it happens, the Turners’ departure was the goal of the people who started the fight.