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Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song. (1.5)
The women on their porches uses words as weapons, aimed to insult and hurt people that they envy, like Janie. This evocative description introduces the idea of language, especially gossip, as a destructive tool.
[Pheoby]: "Yeah, Sam say most of ‘em goes to church so they’ll be sure to rise in Judgment. Dat’s de day dat every secret is s’posed to be made known. They wants to be there and hear it all." (1.46)
Pheoby comments on the porch’s insatiable curiosity, their invasive prying into everyone’s private lives. They hunger for scandalous stories and revealing words, maybe because they aren’t out living themselves and need ample communication as a replacement.
"Ah don’t mean to bother wid tellin’ ‘em nothin’, Pheoby. ‘Tain’t worth the trouble. You can tell ‘em what I say if you wants to. Dat’s just de same as me ‘cause mah tongue is in mah friend’s mouf." (1.51)
Janie trusts Pheoby enough to repeat what she says faithfully to the porch gossips. This idea of linguistic integrity perhaps bolsters readers’ trust in Janie when she starts retelling her story, because it is obvious she values truth.