Summary: Chapter 20
After Tea Cake’s funeral, the men of the muck realize how poorly they treated Janie; to appease their feelings of guilt, they beat Mrs. Turner’s brother and run him out of town again. Since the Everglades mean nothing to Janie without Tea Cake, she returns to Eatonville, taking only a package of seeds that she plans to plant in remembrance of Tea Cake.
Her story finished, Janie tells Pheoby that she is content to live in Eatonville again, having already lived her dream; she has been to the “horizon and back.” She knows that the town will gossip behind her back, but she doesn’t care. She says that they don’t know what love really is and that they have not truly lived for themselves.
That night, in bed, Janie thinks about the horrible day that she killed Tea Cake, and her whole world becomes bleak. She realizes, however, that Tea Cake gave her so much and that he will always be with her. He showed her the horizon, and now she feels at peace.
Analysis: Chapter 19
The final chapter shows Janie at full strength and with the utmost self-assurance. She is able to reject the community that has treated her poorly and, of her own volition, return to Eatonville. The story comes full circle as Janie’s long narration catches up to the moment of her current conversation with Pheoby. This return to the opening of the novel mirrors Janie’s return home. The conversation, full of self-possession and sage advice, gives the impression that Janie has become a guru of sorts—indeed, Pheoby, having heard all about Janie’s fulfilling adventures, declares that she is no longer satisfied with her life. Janie has, as she claims, achieved the horizon and found her enlightenment.
That a bout of melancholy settles over Janie’s room is not a sign that she has failed to reach her horizon. Rather, it allows her to demonstrate the strength that she gained along her journey. As she reflects on her experiences, “[t]he day of the gun, and the bloody body, and the courthouse . . . commence[s] to sing a sobbing sigh,” once again, impersonal forces harass Janie. But the memory of Tea Cake vanquishes the sadness and fills Janie with an understanding of all that she has gained and become.
Janie has already realized that suffering and sacrifice are necessary steps on the path toward self-discovery. In
This final image of Janie “pull[ing] in her horizon” contrasts with the opening image of men’s “[s]hips at a distance.” These metaphorical ships suggest that regardless of their ultimate success or failure, men dream of great accomplishments, of working on and changing their external worlds. Even if the ship comes in, it still originates as something external. Janie’s pulling in her horizon shifts the field of action to the interior. Her quest requires experience of the world, of other people and places, but it is ultimately directed inward.