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When Janie says, "Ah been a delegate to de big 'ssociation of life," she means that she has indeed gone out into the world and experienced life on her own terms, and as a "delegate," or representative from the small town of Eatonville, she has come back with a good deal of information to share about what life is like beyond the stifling confines of home.
Janie had dared to leave Eatonville with a man of her choosing in defiance of the morals of life in the small town. Her mother had arranged a marriage for her to a local man, but Janie was unhappy and ran away with another man instead. She has been gone for a long time, and at her return, the townspeople do not greet her kindly, but instead talk about her resentfully, even though they are dying to know what she has experienced. Phoeby Watson is the only one who accepts Janie hospitably, and before the judgemental stares of the neighbors sitting in front of their houses, the two women get together to in amiable comaraderie. Phoeby warns Janie that the whole town is talking about her, but Janie does not care. She says that she is doing well and is anxious to share with Phoeby what has happened to her in the time she has been gone. Janie tells Phoeby that, as "a delegate to the big 'ssociation of life," she would be happy to share her news with the whole town if they would just be decent enough to come over and greet her, but that even so, if Phoeby wants to later tell them what she says, that would be all right (Chapter 1).
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