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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.
[Pheoby]: "You know if you pass some people and don’t speak tuh suit ‘em dey got tuh go way back in yo’ life and see whut you ever done. They know mo’ ‘bout yuh than you do yo’self. An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done ‘heard’ ‘bout you just what they hope done happened." (1.42)
Pheoby recognizes that because Janie doesn’t make the effort to be friendly to the gossipers, they feel left out and hurt, so they look for ammunition with which to wound her. Pheoby also realizes that jealous people don’t forget anything bad about you, so they can store up dirt to use later. And for lack of real stuff to gossip about, they’ll just make it up.
[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.