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In the first chapter of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Phoeby brings Janie a plate of food. The novel opens at sunset and with a bunch of local residents gathered on Pheoby Watson’s porch. As they sit chatting, Janie trudges into town looking very bedraggled and wearing muddy overalls. The townspeople on Phoeby’s porch feel very resentful towards Janie and sit their talking about her. They talk about how Janie had earlier left her husband, farmer Logan Killicks, to marry a younger man and also left town. They speculate that Janie has returned to town looking the way she does because her second husband, Joe Starks, has left her and stolen all her money. Phoeby chastises the women on her porch for gossiping about Janie and defends her, but then she goes to Janie’s house brining her a plate of food. The plate of food symbolizes that while Phoeby chastised the other women for gossiping, Phoeby believes what they were saying about Janie is probably true. Thinking that Janie is probably abused, poor, and starving, she rushes over to bring her friend dinner.
Phoebe brings Janie "a heaping plate of mulatto rice" in "a covered bowl". Janie has just returned to town after a long absence, and Phoebe, who is a good friend, goes to greet her, and takes the food for the simple reason that she thinks Janie might be hungry.
Phoebe's action comes from the heart, and is presented in direct contrast with the actions of the rest of the women who are observing Janie's return. These women have nothing good to say about Janie, and are angry because she did not stop to talk with them, and essentially tell them "all her busines,s" so that they can gossip about her. Janie had left town awhile back with a younger man, and the women talk about her with self-righteous indignation, but Phoebe, recognizing the hypocrisy in their words, sticks up for her friend, telling the women that the underlying cause of their resentment is envy. She then goes to get "some supper" to take to Janie.
Janie is happy to see Phoeby, and very thankful for the meal. It is evident that the two women are close friends. Phoeby is curious about what has been happening in Janie's life, but does not pry, not wanting to seem nosy. Her curiosity is genuine, however, based on a longing to "feel and do through Janie;" to add a little excitement and adventure to her own limited life. As it turns out, Janie is eager to tell Phoeby about her experiences while she has been away, but Phoeby warns Janie that the women in the town are resentful of her, and are just waiting for any bit of gossip they can get their hands on. Janie tells her friend that she does not care, and that Phoeby can tell them what she says if she wants. Phoeby loyally responds that she will tell them only what Janie wants her to tell them (Chapter 1).
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