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And when she [Nanny] gained the privacy of her own little shack she stayed on her knees so long she forgot she was there herself. There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought. Nanny entered this infinity of conscious pain again on her old knees. (3.30)
In this fascinating dichotomy of the human mind, the narrator shows us various levels of the mind – the level closest to the surface where words are manifested to express thought, then a deeper level where pure thought and intellect reigns without the vehicle of words to express them, and finally a level of pure emotion – untouched by either thought or word. Thus, language is but the most superficial manifestation of emotion, but to the external observer, words are all we have.
There! Janie had put words in his [Logan’s] held-in fears. (4.44)
By saying out loud that she might run away from him, Janie is making Logan’s fears a real possibility, to herself and especially to Logan. Thus, words are transformative vehicles, rendering unspoken thoughts into a possible reality the moment they are uttered.
Janie turned from the door without answering, and stood still in the middle of the floor without knowing it. She turned wrongside out just standing there and feeling. When the throbbing calmed a little she gave Logan’s speech a hard thought and placed it beside other things she had seen and heard. When she had finished with that she dumped the dough on the skillet and smoothed it over with her hand. She wasn’t even angry. Logan was accusing her of her mamma, her grandmamma and her feelings, and she couldn’t do a thing about any of it. The sow-belly in the pan needed turning. She flipped it over and shoved it back. A little cold water in the coffee pot to settle it. Turned the hoe-cake with a plate…(4.58)
After Logan’s rant against Janie, she treats his speech like an object, "plac[ing] it beside other things she had seen and heard." By objectifying it, she can consider his words from a distance and not allow them to impact her emotionally and render her irrational. Also, all her movements within the kitchen – turning over pots and pans, setting food down to cook – could all be read as things she does to her thoughts – turning her thoughts over and letting them stew to get as much meaning out of them as she can and make her decision.