Throughout the novel, Zora Neale Hurston often presents Janie in a situation where speaking out would not help her gain what she desires or could be dangerous. At other times, she is outspoken. Both silence and speech can therefore be understood as constituting resistance.
When Janie returns to Eatonville, as the novel begins, the town gossips cannot contain their curiosity about her activities since leaving. They complain, as Pheoby says, that “she didn’t stop and tell us all her business.” Janie demonstrates the advantages of keeping her own council.
Later, however, she will begin providing a full narrative to Pheoby. Janie says that talking and understanding are two different things, and she can provide that understanding because of their close friendship.
So tain’t no use in me telling you something’ unless Ah give you de understandin’ to go ‘long wid it.
After Janie has been married to the much-older Logan for a few months, he becomes inconsiderate and bossy (chapter 4). When he tells her that he is going to buy a second mule, she at first challenges him. But when he reveals that he expects her to plow using the new mule, she fails to offer an opinion. If his mind is made up, it would be futile to challenge him. Instead she speaks only about preparing supper.
[H]e studied Janie’s face and waited for her to say something….
Janie said nothing except, "Ah’ll cut de p’taters fuh yuh…."
During her marriage to Joe, Janie gains an understanding of her capabilities, but her voice remains subdued. Her potential liberation is suggested by her knowledge that Joe is suppressing her. This is apparent when he prevents her from public speaking, announcing that "speech makin'" is beyond her capabilities. She finds herself “feeling cold” because
Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another.
Janie rarely makes conversation with the store’s customers, because Joe discourages her from doing so. She silently observes the town’s goings-on, and generally refrains from criticizing Joe. Although others notice her reticence, they think that husband and wife understand each other. When Joe makes the correct decision in the matter of Matt’s mule, which he buys to let him rest, Janie listens to the others and then breaks her silence (chapter 6). After hearing her praise him for doing a “mighty fine thing,” Hambo is impressed. Pronouncing her a “born orator,” he comments that this is something they had not previously known.
She put jus’ de right words to our thoughts.
By withholding speech until a crucial moment, Janie has given her words much greater power.