Les chaises

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Eugène Ionesco

Janie has returned to Eatonville. The porch sitters greet her warily and then speculate on the reasons for her return and criticize her character. One of the sitters, Pheoby Watson, an old friend of Janie’s, follows Janie around back and gives her a meal. Janie is grateful and criticizes the porch sitters for not minding their own business and for thinking they know more than what they actually know.

Janie then relates to Pheoby everything that has happened to her. Janie begins with her childhood and the impact that her Nanny had on her (and how the old woman shaped her life). She tells Pheoby about her first dream of love and how she married Logan Killicks only to satisfy her grandmother’s dream of security.

The story takes a turn when Joe Starks passes through town and lures Janie away from her husband with promises of love and a happy future. Janie runs out on Logan, whose matter-of-fact nature did not appeal to her anyway. However, the romance that Joe Starks spoke of appears to be nothing more than empty words, for when they reach their destination it is not what either envisioned. Joe’s ambitions tend toward the political and he becomes mayor of Eatonville. Janie is reduced to another subservient role and her dream of love is again dashed.

Twenty years go by in Eatonville. Most of the women are jealous of Janie. Her only friend is Pheoby. When Joe dies, Janie finally feels free again and begins to dress the way she likes, showing off her beautiful hair, which Joe made her hide.

One day Janie meets Tea Cake, a man very much younger than she. They instantly develop a rapport, and soon the couple is the talk of the town. Many of the townspeople feel that Janie should still be mourning the death of her husband. Others think that Janie is being lowdown for hanging around with a penniless drifter like Tea Cake. But Tea Cake is a pure soul, loyal, honest, decent, hardworking, and always cheerful. He is Janie’s dream come true at last—and he offers her love, just as she always wanted.

Janie leaves Eatonville to marry Tea Cake. The two head to the Everglades where Tea Cake proposes to work in the muck picking beans. They live a simple but mostly happy life in the ‘Glades. A few troubles and jealousies arise, but the two always manage to work it out, and they grow ever more dependent on one another.

Finally, however, a hurricane comes and Janie and Tea Cake are forced to flee for their lives. They battle winds, rains, flood, and beasts. Janie is nearly swept away but Tea Cake saves her. In the process he is bitten by a mad dog, also trying to ride out the flood. Tea Cake lives for another few weeks, but ultimately the rabies takes over his mind and in his madness he tries to kill Janie. Janie defends herself with a shotgun and kills the man she loves. A brief trial ensues but Janie is found innocent of manslaughter. She buries her love in Palm Beach and returns to Eatonville.

Thus, Janie concludes her story to Pheoby. Pheoby returns to her own husband, and Janie goes upstairs to bed. She imagines that Tea Cake is waiting for her in the next life, preparing new songs to sing and play for her on his new guitar. Janie may have lost her love and her dream, but she knows they are immortal and wait for her in eternity.

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