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Chapters 7 - 9
Years pass, and Janie loses all the fight she had in her. She is thirty-five and in a rut. She considers leaving, but does not know where to go. She decides that she might as well be content with the material living that Joe provides. She splits herself into two; one is her real existence, and her other part sits under a tree, making a summertime out of loneliness.
She begins to realize that Joe is old and ailing. The thinner and frailer he becomes, the more he attacks Janie, especially at the store. One day she cuts some chewing tobacco badly, and the customer makes jokes about women and knives. Joe joins in and begins to criticize his wife, insulting her old body. Janie can take no more and lets loose. She tells him not to mix up her work in the store with her female body. When he tells her she is out of her head, she tells him it was not she who started talking under people's clothes. She also tells him that she is not old and that he needs to take a good look at himself, for if he pulled down his pants, he would look like the "change uh life." Both Joe and the customers are shocked to hear Janie speak this way. Joe feels his manhood has been irrevocably challenged. He sees himself entirely debased in the eyes of other men, who will now pity him. Janie has cruelly deceived him, so he strikes her as hard as he can and drives her from the store.
At their house, Joe moves his things into a room downstairs, wanting Janie to see how she has hurt him. Although living separately, they try to live in peace, but it is difficult. Joe hides his conversations from Janie and has a neighbor woman cook his meals. He is truly a deflated man. He grows sicker and calls in a "root-doctor", who tries to get in good with Joe, but does him no good. Janie does not know how to help him, for Joe has taken to his bed and will not see her. All sorts of people visit the house and have access to Joe. They treat Janie shabbily, making out like somebody has to look after Mr. Starks. Finally Janie insists that Joe has a real doctor, who examines him and finds that Joe's kidneys have failed. It is only a matter of time until he dies.
Janie faces the fact that death is coming to her house from his own high house overlooking the world. She feels sorry for Joe and suggests that he let her visit him, which he refuses. Sam Watson tells her that Joe thinks he will get better as soon as the root-doctor finds the buried curse; but Sam knows better, just like Janie. Determined to talk to her husband, Janie finally bursts into his room and finds a cold, distant, and dying man. He is shrunken, and his bedclothes are dirty. Although he tries to chase her out, Janie tells him that they need to talk. He accuses her of having no sympathy, but she points out that he would never let her use it. She then explains that she is not blaming anybody; but she wants him to hear her out before it is too late.
Janie sees that Joe is shocked by the idea of his own death. She calmly tells him that his root-doctor has just been taking his money and doing him no good. The real doctor knows he is going to die. Joe sobs and says he does not want to think about dying. She says that if he would have learned to listen in life, he would not have gotten so sick and died so early. He has always been too busy worshipping work and money and putting others down -- so busy that he does not even half know her after all the years they have lived together. Joe tells her to leave, but Janie will not go. She will make him listen this last time. She explains that the Joe Starks she ran off with died a long time ago. She wanted to make a great life with him, but he only wanted her in his life as an attractive decoration. Joe tells her to shut up and die herself. She tells him that he will have to die in order to realize that he cannot gain sympathy and compassion if he does not put some out for other people. Janie closes by saying he has been too self-centered all his life, listening only to himself. She says she did not rush off down the road after him all those years ago just to live a life of obeying his voice.