Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston

Chapters 17–18

Summary Chapters 17–18

Summary: Chapter 17

As the season begins, some familiar faces return and some new faces appear. Mrs. Turner brings her brother to town, and Tea Cake, feeling threatened, beats Janie to show that he still controls her. He pampers her afterward, and Janie harbors no ill will toward him. All the men are envious of his power over her.

On Saturdays, workers receive their pay, and many use their money to buy liquor. One particular Saturday, two men named Dick Sterrett and Coode may get drunk and walk around the town making a ruckus. They end up at Mrs. Turner’s restaurant, where Tea Cake and his crowd are eating. They get rowdy and a fight breaks out. Tea Cake tries to throw the two out and get on Mrs. Turner’s good side, but his efforts only lead to further havoc. The restaurant gets trashed, and Mrs. Turner gets trampled and injured. She fumes at her husband for passively letting the roustabouts wreck her business.

Summary: Chapter 18

They sat in company with the others . . . They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.

See Important Quotations Explained

One day, Janie sees several groups of Native Americans departing the Everglades for Palm Beach. She asks them why they are leaving and they respond that a hurricane is coming. The news spreads through the settlement and everyone begins watching anxiously. Over the next few days, more indigenous people leave and animals begin scurrying off in the same direction. Soon, workers begin leaving the town. Although he is offered a ride to higher ground, Tea Cake decides to stay. Several men who decide to stay gather at Tea Cake’s house, and a party ensues. But as the storm whips up, all of the men leave for their own houses except a fellow named Motor Boat. That night and the next day, the storm builds in the distance and the gigantic Lake Okechobee begins to roil. The three of them wait out the storm in the shanty with “their eyes . . . watching God.”

Tea Cake says that he bets Janie wishes that she had stayed in her big house in Eatonville, but she replies that she doesn’t care what happens as long as they remain together. He goes outside and sees that a serious flood has begun. They decide to flee. They gather up some essential papers and, arms locked against the wind, Tea Cake, Janie, and Motor Boat head east to higher ground.

The three look behind them and see that the Okechobee’s dikes have burst and that the lake is pouring toward them, crushing everything in its path. They hurry and reach an abandoned, tall house on a little hill, where they decide to rest. After a short sleep, Janie wakes up and sees the lake moving closer. She and Tea Cake flee, but Motor Boat decides to stay in the house. Exhausted, the couple trudge onward, and the flooding gets so bad that they have to swim great distances. They pass bodies and horrible destruction along the way.

Trying to grab a piece of roofing for cover, Janie gets blown into rough water. She struggles but then sees a cow swimming by with a growling dog perched on its back. She grabs the cow’s tail for safety, but the dog begins to attack her. Tea Cake dives to the rescue and wrestles in the water with the beast, who bites him on the cheek before he stabs it to death. The next day, Janie and Tea Cake reach Palm Beach, a scene of chaotic destruction. They find a place to rest and Janie thanks Tea Cake for saving her life.