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[Janie]: "To start off wid, people like dem wastes up too much time puttin’ they mouf on things they don’t know nothin’ about […]"
[Pheoby]: "[…] so long as they get a name to gnaw on they don’t care whose it is, and what about, ‘specially if they can make it sound like evil." (1.53-54)
Gossipers, according to Janie and Pheoby, have no greater purpose in life than to take someone’s words and twist them to make them sound "like evil." They find great pleasure in defaming others, whether or not such infamy is deserved.
They sat there in the fresh young darkness close together. Pheoby eager to feel and do through Janie, but hating to show her zest for fear it might be thought mere curiosity. Janie was full of that oldest human longing – self revelation. Pheoby held her tongue for a long time, but she couldn’t help moving her feet. So Janie spoke. (1.56)
Here, Hurston points out that it is natural for people not only to be curious but to want to talk about themselves. The "oldest human longing" – according to Hurston – is the desire to tell your story to eager ears, to garner sympathy from others, and to connect to other human beings through words.
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 long-lived "envy" that these gossipers on the porch have for Janie quickly translates into "burning statements…[and]…killing tools" all made from words. Their jealousy makes them aggressive and vindictive. Hurston describes the gossipers’ cruel words as "walking without masters," which makes it seem that everyone is throwing out criticisms, but would never claim them or take responsibility for what they say. Jealousy is something you show behind the victim’s back when you don’t have to be the master of your words or face repercussions.