Sunday, February 22, 2009

Symbol: mule

The mule is a symbol that is repeated throughout the novel. At the beginning of the novel, Nanny tells Janie that "woman is de mule uh de world." Mules are animals that are bought to do labor. Similarly, throughout the novel Jodie is "bought" by different men. The motif of a mule is repeated to show that women are not treated well. They are treated like animals instead.
The first time a mule appears in the novel is during Janie's marriage to Logan. She marries Logan because she seems to have no other choice, much like a mule has no choice when he is bought. Soon Logan commands that Janie help him do the plowing, and he leaves to by a second mule that she can handle. Logan is degrading towards Janie and treats her like his possession, not like a wife.
The symbol of a mule appears again during Janie's marriage to Joe. During this time a man in town, Matt Bonner, buys a mule that he works to death. Janie protests and so her husband, Joe, buys the mule from Matt. Again, the mule symbolizes Joe's ownership of Janie. Joe is constantly putting down Janie in front of the other men in town. When Janie finally stands up for herself, it causes havoc and ruins her marriage even more than it already was.
The mule is Hurston's way of showing that women should be treated better. They are not animals that can be bought to do labor. I am interested to see what happens with Janie and Tea Cake and see if the mule motif shows up again.


  1. I really like this idea of the mule being a symbol of how women. I also was thinking of this symbol but had a hard time putting my thoughts down on the subject.

    Another aspect that I found interesting is the choice to use a mule as the symbol instead of say a donkey, ox or horse. I am probably reading into this way to much but I always think of mules as almost odd ducks in that they are neither horses nor donkeys. I wonder if Hurston
    feels that she as a woman does not fit into society. Also, mules are really surprisingly intelligent which I think also plays a role into why they are used as a symbol in this novel. -Erin :)

  2. I agree with all that you said Rachel. After reading your entry I picked up on possibly some foreshadowing...possibly. What does it say about women when the mule sold by Matt Bonner to Jody dies? Will the women's cause die off eventually? The town does hold a service for the mule, but is it only because Jody praised the mule based off of what Janie said. I feel like there is a lot to think about when it comes to the mule symbol.

    One other thing, by Jody buying the mule from Matt Bonner he ultimately becomes the final owner. This reinforces Jody's dominant quality within society.

  3. I agree completely with Rachel's use of the mule as a motif. Janie is "bought" by her husbands and then worked hard by them. It is as if they want to get their money's worth out of her, just as a farmer would a mule. When she was married to Logan he worked her on the farm. When she married Joe, he worked her in the store. In both marriages Janie was treated as if she were an animal rather than a woman. I think that Rachel did a great job describing this motif.

  4. Another thought I had on the subject of a mule is that mules cannot reproduce, and that, to me, symbolized that woman were not expected to make anything of their lives. Instead they are a pack animal used to carry everyone else's burden.

    Also mules are a cross between a horse and a donkey, and that reminded me of Janie being biracial.

    I think everyone else hit on all the other connections I made, and I really agree with everything they said =)

  5. dead on, home gurl. GOT EM! was there any mule symbolism in Janie's time spent in the care of Tea Cake that yal know of?