Within the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, there are several inanimate objects which relate to the development of the main character but also the overall story. These inanimate objects reflect several aspects of the setting and of the time period in general. One of these inanimate objects is the mule which is referred to numerous times within the novel. This mule serves many purposes, each of which relates to one another, and overall to the protagonist: Janie Crawford.
In the novel, Janie Crawford lives an extremely difficult life, especially in several instances. When Janie was in her teenage years her grandmother had her married off to an older man by the name of Logan Killicks. One day Logan said, “Ah needs two mules dis yeah” (Hurston 27).
Logan then left to go to Lake City in order to purchase a second mule which he would later use for farm work. This mule relates very to Janie because Logan later criticizes Janie for not helping him out enough on the farm and subsequently attempting to work her like a mule. As a result of this abuse, Janie leaves Logan for another man who she believes would treat her better.
The man Janie fled to was called Joe Starks and the two moved to Green Cove Springs together. There Joe takes control of the town and asserts himself as mayor after having improved the town and gained the trust of its citizens.
Soon after becoming mayor, Joe reveals his true intentions for having married Janie. He had required a “trophy wife” who would act as a mule to him. A mule is both silent and loyal and in this case, Joe required Janie to be just that. Joe said, “She’s uh woman and her place is in de home” (Hurston 43). In the end, Joe never got what he wanted because Janie would not be controlled by another man or person after she had already been for the majority of her life.
Later during Janie’s time with Logan, she witnessed a group of men harass and tease a mule. This mule had been worked its entire life and as a result, is almost dead. The mule which served its purpose of performing hard labor again relates to Janie because she too had been working her entire life so far. But the mule relates to Janie in another way. The mule was being verbally abused similarly to how Logan abused Janie. Logan said, “Ah’ll take holt uh dat ax and come in dere and kill yuh!” (Hurston 31). Shortly after all of this the mule had died and was given a funeral by Joe.
Overall the object of the mule was used many times within the novel. It performed various tasks related to labor, was abused, and also controlled just as Janie had been by her two husbands. Janie’s grandmother had said, “He hands it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see” (Hurston 15).
Janie’s grandmother clearly illustrated what Janie would become and how the mule clearly symbolizes and relates to her granddaughter. Janie also relates to the mule characteristically. The expression: “as stubborn as a mule” can be applied to Janie’s decisions. She is too stubborn to simply submit to the will of others and be controlled by those who oppress her. She would rather fight or leave them in order to liberate herself and finally attain the freedom she vies for.
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