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It was after the picnic that the town began to notice things and got mad. Tea Cake and Mrs. Mayor Starks! All the men that she could get, and fooling with somebody like Tea Cake! Another thing, Joe Starks hadn’t been dead but nine months and here she goes sashaying off to a picnic in pink linen. Done quit attending church, like she used to. Gone off to Sanford in a car with Tea Cake and her all dressed in blue! It was a shame. Done took to high heel slippers and a ten dollar hat! Looking like some young girl, always in blue because Tea Cake told her to wear it. Poor Joe Starks. Bet he turns over in his grave every day. Tea Cake and Janie gone hunting. Tea Cake and Janie gone fishing. Tea Cake and Janie gone to Orlando to the movies. Tea Cake and Janie gone to a dance. Tea Cake making flower beds in Janie’s yard and seeding the garden for her. Chopping down that tree she never did like by the dining room window. All those signs of possession. (12.1)
The town, already scandalized by Janie’s interest in Tea Cake, hates her for associating so intimately and publicly with Tea Cake. Because they adored Joe Starks as their mayor, they find Janie’s flirting around scandalous. It’s almost like they’re being jealous for Joe Starks when they really have no right to be
[Sam]: "Oh dey got it all figgered out. Maybe it ain’t as bad as they say, but they talk it and make it sound real bad on her part."
[Pheoby]: "Dat’s jealousy and malice. Some uh dem very mens wants tuh do whut dey claim deys skeered Tea Cake is doin’." (12.10-11)
Pheoby recognizes the driving force behind the town’s petty talk about Janie. She knows that the men are jealous and hypocritical – jealous because they want the very thing Tea Cake has won (Janie’s affection), and hypocritical because they’re trying to marry Janie for her money despite trash talking Tea Cake for supposedly going after her wealth.
[Janie, when Tea Cake comes home early from work]: "Maybe you think Ah ain’t treatin’ yuh right and you watchin’ me." (14.23)
Janie finally voices her biggest fear – that Tea Cake might suspect her of carrying on an affair behind his back. She has had enough experience with men to know that jealousy is part of their nature.