Examples Of The Mule In Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Many Ways to Be a Mule

An already nonessential eulogy scene in Zora Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God becomes even more out of place when the novel’s realism is suddenly broken to describe and personify a group of buzzards who, with full lucidity, enact a funeral of their own. The seeming futility of this abrupt moment forces readers to reflect on its purpose: what do Joe Stark and the buzzard’s speech symbolize, and what larger social commentary does their content advance? By emphasizing Janie’s similarities with the mule and labeling her relationship with Joe Starks as one of duplicity and strain, the two eulogy speeches—and their context—comment on man’s ability to use those closest to them as a means of leverage and the frequency …show more content…

For women like Janie in a time of oppression and misogyny, there are many ways to be a mule.

The reversal of the roles of animals and humans in the mule’s eulogy presents Janie’s similarities with the mule and explores Starks’ willingness to form deceitful relationships in the name of social gain. Beginning his eulogy, Starks stands upon the mule and deems it a “most distinguished citizen,” not only personifying the mule but, with the term ‘distinguished,’ placing it above the average townsperson in social status (60). He honors the mule in name only, however, using its body to step up a rung on the social ladder. As he steps off of the mule to an affirming reaction from the crowd, Starks’ mind is not on the mule or its death but rather the legitimization of his own power; “[the speech] made him more solid than building the schoolhouse had done” (60). Immediately after delivering an emotionally charged speech in its memory, Starks is no longer thinking about the mule but is instead pondering about how much the speech strengthened his core compared to past achievements. This shallow respect is mirrored in Starks’ relationship with Janie. Janie is …show more content…

For the first ‘bare’ part of her life, Janie is a mule not to a man but to her own grandmother. In her youth, Janie yearns for relationships and objects that to her symbolize freedom. She is drawn to a blossoming pear tree because of how its “barren brown stems [turn] to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds from snowy virginity” (10), Here, Janie is awed by something changed from ‘barren’ to beautiful as she struggles with the suppression of her grandmother, who goes on to bash Janie for kissing a boy through a gatepost. It is clear Janie associates the pear tree with freedom, as she was avoiding her chores to sit under it. Thus, the beauty she finds in the turn from stem to blossom is directly correlated with the joy she finds in the escape from her grandmother and discovery of freedom. To Janie, freedom is a blossom and her life without it is a ‘barren’ stem, waiting to transform under the right circumstances. The term ‘virginity’ used to describe this blossoming suggests the freedom Janie seeks is self-fulfilling and pure—to be virgin is to be both pure and solitary. However, thanks to notions given to her by her grandmother, Janie incorrectly reaches a conclusion about the joy and freedom she feels: “[s]o this was a marriage!” (11). Janie has become a mule to her grandmother’s way of thinking, allowing her to somewhat

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