One of Zora Neale Hurston's most undenyable gifts is word play: her ability to create unbelieveable imagery and emotion using incredibly varied writing techniques.
In Chapter 1, she acknowledges the power of words on page two as she describes the sitters as "they made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood came alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song."
Beyond the incredibly poetic nature of her writing, Hurston completely captures human nature and the power of words in this quote. People long for dramatics, intrigue, and excitement, regardless of whose life it is affecting. And so these sitters - who appear to be middle aged at the youngest - naturally want something to stir their imaginations considering, as we talked about in class, that adults are too caught up in reality and responsibility to use their imaginations frequently. But jealousy is a large part of human nature as well, and Hurston references that in the vitriolic questions and laughter that emerges from the sitters. They want to know about Janie's life, but only so that they can feel content about theirs in hearing the lurid tales they hope for that will affirm their seemingly less exciting way of life.
But also important in this quote is Hurston's description of words as a "harmony." She finishes describing the ascension of ill will towards Janie that builds a mood within the sitters, but she then says that words are like a "harmony in a song"; and songs are hardly as evil as the "mass cruelty" she was just referring to. However I was struck by this line because of how contradictory, yet sensible it was. Words are a product of the mind from which they come; they do not come into being without a person to shape them. But then once they are said, words are no longer the property of whoever says them. They are "without masters" and join together to form the dialogue of all conversations. Words can be construed in any manner, good or bad, by those hearing them and so they have different meanings, different pitches, depending on who is listening. Hurston describes this interaction between a word, a speaker, and a listener in language that both captures the meaning and exemplifies her point, and this is what gives her writing the unique quality that is immediately apparent in the novel.