Effroyables jardins

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Michel Quint

Janie—Janie is the novel’s heroine, raised by her grandmother Nanny in the South. She is married off at an early age to a man named Logan Killicks, but this marriage does not lead to love as Janie hopes. So she runs off with a sweet-talker named Joe Starks, who sets himself up as mayor of a town called Eatonville. There Janie submits to Joe for twenty years. After Joe’s death, Janie meets Tea Cake, and begins the life she always dreamed about—a life of love, simplicity, and playfulness.

The Washburns—This is the family for whom Nanny works, and with whose children Janie herself plays. It is a white family, but Janie does not realize that she is any different from them (externally) until a photographer comes one day to snap a photo of the children. Then Janie sees the contrast between herself and the Washburns for the first time. It does not, however, greatly affect her.

Johnny Taylor—Johnny is a boy who kisses Janie at an early age. He serves no purpose in the novel other than to alarm Janie’s grandmother, who takes Janie aside and tells her she is a woman now and that it is time to get married. Janie tries to object, of course, for she is simply pleased to receive a kiss—nothing more.

Nanny—Janie’s grandmother Nanny raises Janie after Janie’s mother runs off at an early age. Nanny’s dream is one of security and she wants Janie to marry a man who will protect her. Nanny’s fears are related to her life under slavery in the South. Janie, however, cannot relate. Janie has grown up free, and her dreams are of love, and her fears are related to a life of toil and oppression that does not give expression to the spirit she senses in the springtime of the world. It is Nanny who guides Janie into her first “practical” marriage.

Pheoby Watson—She is the only real friend that Janie is able to make in Eatonville. The other women are jealous of Janie’s position (as wife of the mayor) as well as of her good looks. Pheoby, however, never judges Janie. When Janie returns to Eatonville (at the beginning of the narrative), Pheoby is the one who takes her food and listens to her story. Pheoby is a sympathetic soul.

Logan Killicks—Logan is a practical man who wants a practical wife. His realism is only hampered by his insensitivity and lack of sympathy for Janie’s character. Janie thrives on love and dreams. Logan insists, however, that she do as he says and help him with the chores on the farm that weigh him down. She attempts to affirm her place and barricade herself in the kitchen. But Logan is demanding. Janie walks out on him without, apparently, another thought—and heads off in a new direction (or so she at least thinks) with Joe Starks.

Joe Starks—Joe is a sweet-talking business-savvy man who meets Janie when she is still young and married to Logan. Joe charms Janie and induces her to run away with him. He turns Eatonville into a real town, becomes the town’s mayor, and makes Janie work in the store at the front of their house. He is often unsympathetic and sometimes abusive to Janie—but to the townspeople he is nice and polite. He makes Janie hide her hair under head rags so that no men will see her beauty. Joe himself becomes old and flabby and useless. When he dies after two decades of marriage, Janie feels free.

Vergile Woods, aka Tea Cake—Tea Cake is a simple, childlike soul. He wanders into town one day some months after Joe’s death and becomes fast friends with Janie. He is fun to be around even though he does not have a dime to his name. He is in many ways the exact opposite of Joe—he is young, humorous, and carefree; genuine, sympathetic and full of life and romance. He does not try to harm anyone, nor does he have any great ambitions in life. Like Janie, his only desire is to live simply and love life. He marries Janie and moves with her to the Everglades. There he is bitten by a rabid dog and Janie is forced to shoot him in self-defense when madness takes over him.

The Porch Sitters—It is through the eyes of the porch sitters that the reader is first introduced to Janie as she comes strolling back into town. They still envy her carefree nature and her good looks. They still also disapprove of her past affair with Tea Cake and decide for themselves that he must have left her. They are judgmental and superficial gossipers and spend the whole day sitting on the porch.

Nunkie—Nunkie is a short, chubby girl who tries to seduce Tea Cake away from Janie down in the muck of the Everglades. Janie catches the two together in a struggle one day and chases Nunkie off. It is because of Nunkie that Janie learns what jealousy is.

Mrs. Turner—Mrs. Turner is another character in the Everglades who befriends Janie. She likes Janie because Janie is lighter-skinned than most Negroes. Mrs. Turner is a black woman who cannot stand other blacks. She repeatedly puts down Tea Cake (because he is very dark, always laughing and singing songs).

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