Le Roi des aulnes


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Michel Tournier

Chapter 16

Janie and Tea Cake stay on in the Everglades after the season ends. Janie gets to know Mrs. Turner. Mrs. Turner has both white and black parentage, like Janie. But unlike Janie, Mrs. Turner only likes the white part. She cannot stand the way Negroes act, so she tells Janie, and the reason she looks up to Janie is that Janie has a lighter complexion.

Mrs. Turner does not care for Tea Cake because he is a very dark Negro. She thinks that all Negroes are always laughing, that they laugh too loud, and that they are not good for much. The whites, however, have class—so she says. Janie disagrees, and Tea Cake tells Mrs. Turner that she makes God look foolish—finding fault with all His creations the way she does.

But Mrs. Turner provides Tea Cake and Janie something to talk about during the off-season months when life around the Everglades becomes dull. Janie tells Mrs. Turner that she loves Tea Cake and would not know what to do with herself if he were ever to go away. Their love is real, and they find happiness in the little, simple things.

Chapter 17

Tea Cake and Janie’s relationship becomes the envy of the new workers when the new season arrives. When Mrs. Turner sends her brother around to bait Janie, Tea Cake beats Janie (ever so slightly) just to show everyone that he is boss. The next day Tea Cake pampers Janie as though he about killed her, and Janie likewise hangs on Tea Cake as though she could do nothing without him. Both men and women are envious.

On Saturday when the workers get paid, a fight breaks out in Mrs. Turner’s place where everyone has gathered to drink. Coodemay and Sterrett and told by Tea Cake to get out. Tea Cake stands up for Mrs. Turner and her establishment and says that no disrespectful people can come in. They wrestle more and make a mess of the entire place until finally Coodemay cries out that he was wrong and that he and Sterrett will buy a drink for everyone at Pahokee. So off everyone goes. Mrs. Turner is in dismay at the sight of her place and beats her husband for not doing anything to stop it. Mrs. Turner’s son and brother are sent for. And on Monday, Coodemay and Sterrett stop by to pay for the damages.

In this chapter, Hurston illustrates the dynamic of the workers’ camp in the Everglades. She also develops the character of Tea Cake more fully. From a mild and gentle man, he has grown into a strong, take-charge kind of man—one who insists on respect and order (but who can cut up and have fun at the same time). Ironically, his defense of Mrs. Turner’s honor (who has run down Tea Cake in the past) only leads to more destruction. One must wonder whether Tea Cake’s defense is an excuse to draw out the fight and wreck the place even more.

Chapter 18

A hurricane comes to the Everglades. Janie observes the Seminoles leaving the area. They are the first to sense that a bad storm is coming. As others pack up and leave, Tea Cake decides to stay, arguing that the white folk know best and they are not leaving. However, a storm does come; the dam breaks, the lake comes pouring in, and Tea Cake and Janie are forced to flee in the middle of the night on foot in order to escape the rising flood.

They reach a bridge but it is already packed with white people so they have to press on up the fill. At some spots they are forced to swim, but Janie is so tired that Tea Cake must do most of the work. Finally, Tea Cake has to rest as well. Janie sees a piece of tar paper roof that has blown by and thinks she can shelter him with it, but as she grabs hold the wind takes her and the tar paper roof into the water. Tea Cake hears her cries and dives in after her. She grabs hold of the tail of a cow, but a rabid dog is atop the cow. The dog tries to kill Janie, but Tea Cake arrives to fight with the dog. The dog bites Tea Cake on the upper cheek before Tea Cake kills it. The cow leads Janie back to the fill and Tea Cake paddles up behind.

The next day they make it into town, but the place is in ruins and there is no chance of finding a doctor for Tea Cake. All they can do is rest.

This chapter ends somewhat ominously, with the awareness on both Janie’s and Tea Cake’s part that he has been bitten by a rabid dog. Their life of joy and happiness has been shattered by a hurricane and Tea Cake’s imprudence in not getting out when advised by others. The fight with the rabid dog is the climax of the scene, which brings the two lovers back down to earth from their fantastical flight with a horrible thud. All is desolation around them.

Chapter 19

After resting for two days, Tea Cake goes out to view the devastation. While he is scouting around town, a pair of white men with rifles spot him and force him to join the laborers below in clearing the wreckage and burying the dead. Tea Cake does not want to go, but there is nothing he can do since they threaten to shoot him dead if he does not obey. The men in charge below don’t want the whites and the blacks buried together, so the laborers must take care to see which body is of which race—though in many cases it is difficult to tell. Tea Cake makes a joke about God not knowing about the Jim Crow laws down here. Eventually, Tea Cake begins to worry about Janie, so when a truck approaches to unload, Tea Cake escapes (despite warnings of being shot).

Janie is indeed crying in his absence, but he is able to calm her. They return to the Glades, where Tea Cake meets other friends and survivors of the storm.

After a few weeks, however, the effects of the rabies begin to be seen in Tea Cake. He cannot swallow, and he becomes angry at everything. Janie runs to get a doctor. When the doctor arrives, he tells Janie it is too late for Tea Cake. He gives Janie some pills to make it easier on him, but there is little hope that he will survive. That evening Janie questions God about why He lets such things happen.

But Janie visits another doctor, who tells her that serum may be sent for. Janie waits and waits and Tea Cake gets worse. Finally, his disordered mind overwhelms him and he threatens to shoot Janie with the pistol, thinking that she is all dressed up to sneak off with Mrs. Turner’s brother. Janie, in self-defense, shoots Tea Cake with the shotgun. When the doctor arrives, he finds Tea Cake dead with his head in Janie’s lap. There is a bite mark on her arm, the pistol on the floor, and a bullet lodged in the wall. Janie is caressing Tea Cake’s head.

She is arrested and tried that same day. Some of the blacks who were friends of Tea Cake try to persuade the judge to decide against Janie, but the doctor states what he saw and knew of Tea Cake, that he was sick with rabies, and that Janie acted in self-defense. She is acquitted of murder and buries Tea Cake in Palm Beach. She does not dress in mourning clothes (as she did for Joe Starks) because she is too much in grief to bother about decorum.

In this chapter, Janie’s dream of love is brought to a crushing and brutal close. The ship has pulled back out to sea, taking Tea Cake with it. Jane’s enslavement to love has proven just as crippling as Nanny’s enslavement to the South. Yet, Janie is alive with the thought that Tea Cake is now in eternity, preparing songs for her on a new guitar, awaiting her arrival in the afterlife.

Chapter 20

The narrative returns to the present after describing how Janie stayed on in the muck for a few weeks to make everyone happy. But she is not happy and she gives everything away that she and Tea Cake owned. The only thing that remains is a packet of seeds that Tea Cake had bought to plant, and these she puts in her breast pocket. These she will plant back at her home in Eatonville.

Janie concludes her story by telling Pheoby that there are two things that no one can tell you anything about—that you must do on your own: the first is go to God, the second is live life.

The wind shakes the leave and recalls Pheoby to herself. She must go in and see about Sam. Janie goes upstairs to her old bedroom. She thinks of Tea Cake and how he is not really dead but still alive to her for as long as she can think and feel. She recollects her soul and calls it in to meditate upon the love she found, which nothing can take away—not even death.

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