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The sun was gone…It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment. (1.4)
Since many of the people of Eatonville are laborers during the day, they are rendered powerless and voiceless – essentially animals – while under their boss’s watch. When the "bossman [is] gone," their humanity returns to them and they finally have the capacity to speak and listen and judge.
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.