Why are the woman talking nastily about Janie as she returns to town?

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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We don't know this yet, but it's because Janie has abandoned the town in their eyes. She was the mayor's wife, and after he died, she left with a younger man. They feel she "ran off", & they also figure Tea Cake left her after taking her money. The townpeople think that Janie thinks she's above them, and only looks down on the citizens. However, all this is just the surface. The women are actually jealous of Janie, who has lived more than they ever will. They are also jealous that she still looks young, and they envy her physical attractiveness.The only one who understands Janie is Phoeby. She knows that these women gossip about her friend because they are envious of her. Pheoby understands that the townspeople talk as if they “didn’t do nothin’ in de bed ‘cept praise de Lawd.” When Pearl Stone accuses Janie of “doin’ wrong,” Pheoby finally explodes, and points out that the real reason the town is mad at Janie is “’cause she didn’t stop and tell us all her business.” Pheoby seems to be the only person brave enough to tell the truth in this town. Everyone else seems content to repeat the same evil-minded gossip.

This chapter establishes relationship between Janie and the town of Eatonville. The obvious tension comes to represent the kind of conflict Janie faces her entire life. Hurston utilizes metaphors in order to emphasize the cruelty of the townspeople. They “made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs.” The fact that she is able to ignore this talk and greet them politely is courageous, further setting her apart from the rest. The townspeople, on the other hand, only become more upset, and “hope that she might fall to her level some day.” This statement is very ironic, because Janie’s refusal to entertain the townspeople’s nosy questions proves that she is, in fact, above them.

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