Hurston – Mules and Men

Mules and Men

by Zora Neale Hurston

[ Hurston, Zora Neale. 1928. “Intro & Chapter One” Mules and Men, Pg. 1-17]

Points & Quotes: Intro & Chapter 1

  • Includes some folktales
    • John and the Frog
    • John and Noah
  • Also (and maybe more importantly) includes the “toe party” scene of Hurston partying and ending up passed-out drunk and waking up to waffles
  • ALSO ( and also important) written in thick vernacular dialect.

Cool example of fieldwork/ participant observation being a messy mixture of interviews, socializing, and being flexible enough to be dragged into things you did not expect (but fully embrace).

“I was glad when somebody told me, ‘You may go and collect Negro folklore.’
In a way it would not be a new experience for me. When I pitched headforemost into the world I landed in the crib of negroism. From the earliest rocking of my cradle, I had known about the capers Brer Rabbit is apt to cut and what the Squinch Owl says from the house top. But it was fitting me like a tight chemise. I couldn’t see it for wearing it. It was only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings, that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at my garment. Then I had to have the spy-glass of Anthropology to look through at that.” (1)

“Folklore is not as easy to collect as it sounds. The best source is where there are the least outside influences and these people, being usually under-privileged, are the shyest. They are most reluctant at times to reveal that which the soul lives by. And the Negro, in spite of his open-faced laughter, his seeming acquiescence, is particularly evasive. You see we are a polite people and we do not say to our questioner, ‘Get out of here!’ We smile and tell him or her something that satisfies the white person because, knowing so little about us, he doesn’t know what he is missing. The Indian resists curiosity by a stony silence. The Negro offers a feather-bed resistance. That is, we let the probe enter, but it never comes out. It gets smothered under a lot of laughter and pleasantries.
“The theory behind our tactics: ‘The white man is always trying to know into somebody else’s business. All right, I’ll set something outside the door of my mind for him to play with and handle. He can read my writing but he sho’ can’t read my mind. I’ll put this play toy in his hand, and he will seize it and go away. Then I’ll say my say and sing my song.'” (2-3)

Interchange between Hurston and possible interlocutors:

“Ah come to collect some old stories and tales and Ah know y’all know a plenty of ’em and that’s why Ah headed straight for home.”

“What you mean, Zora, them big old lies we tell when we’re jus’ sittin’ around here on the store porch doin’ nothin’?” asked B. Moseley.

“Yeah, those same ones about Ole Massa, and colored folks in heaven, and—oh, y’all know the kind I mean.”

“Aw shucks,” exclaimed George Thomas doubtfully. “Zora, don’t you come here and tell de biggest lie first thing. Who you reckon want to read all them old-time tales about Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear?”

“Plenty of people, George. They are a lot more valuable than you might think. We want to set them down before it’s too late.”

“Too late for what?”

“Before everybody forgets all of ’em.”

“No danger of that. That’s all some people is good for—set ’round and lie and murder groceries.”

Annotation Summary for Mules and Men

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Iwas glad when somebody told me, “You may go and collect Negrofolklore.” In a way it would not be a new experience for me. When I pitchedheadforemost into the world I landed in the crib of negroism. From theearliest rocking of my cradle, I had known about the capers Brer Rabbitis apt to cut and what the Squinch Owl says from the house top. But itwas fitting me like a tight chemise. I couldn’t see it for wearing it. Itwas only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings,that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at mygarment. Then I had to have the spy-glass of Anthropology to lookthrough at that. “

Page 1, Underline (Blue):
Content: “When I pitchedheadforemost into the world I landed in the crib of negroism”

Page 1, Underline (Blue):
Content: “But itwas fitting me like a tight chemise. I couldn’t see it for wearing it. Itwas only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings,that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at mygarment. Then I had to have the spy-glass of Anthropology to lookthrough at that. “

Page 1, Underline (Red):

Page 1, Underline (Red):

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Folklore is not as easy to collect as it sounds. The best source is wherethere are the least outside influences and these people, being usuallyunder-privileged, are the shyest. “

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Yousee we are a polite people and we do not say to our questioner, “Getout of here!” We smile and tell him or her something that satisfies thewhite person because, knowing so little about us, he doesn’t know whathe is missing. The Indian resists curiosity by a stony silence. The Negrooffers a feather-bed resistance. That is, we let the probe enter, but itnever comes out. It gets “

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “smothered under a lot of laughter and pleasantries.”

Page 3, Stamp (yesgrn)

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “The theory behind our tactics: “The white man is always trying toknow into somebody else’s business. All right, I’ll set something outsidethe door of my mind for him to play with and handle. He can read mywriting but he sho’ can’t read my mind. I’ll put this play toy in his hand,and he will seize it and go away. Then I’ll say my say and sing mysong.” “

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Ah come to collect some old stories and tales and Ah know y’all know a plenty of ’em and that’s why Ah headed straight for home.” “What you mean, Zora, them big old lies we tell when we’re jus’ sittin’ around here on the store porch doin’ nothin’?” asked B. Moseley.”

Page 7, Underline (Blue):
Content: ““What you mean, Zora, them big old lies we tell when we’re jus’ sittin’ around here on the store porch doin’ nothin’?””

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ““Yeah, those same ones about Ole Massa, and colored folks in heaven,and—oh, y’all know the kind I mean.” “Aw shucks,” exclaimed George Thomas doubtfully. “Zora, don’tyou come here and tell de biggest lie first thing. Who you reckon wantto read all them old-time tales about Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear?” “Plenty of people, George. They are a lot more valuable than youmight think. We want to set them down before it’s too late.” “Too late for what?” “Before everybody forgets all of ’em.” “No danger of that. That’s all some people is good for—set ’roundand lie and murder groceries.” “

Page 7, Underline (Red):
Content: “doin’ nothin’?””

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “There was a lot of horn-honking outside and I went to the door. Thecrowd drew up under the mothering camphor tree in four old cars.Everybody in boisterous spirits. “Come on, Zora! Le’s go to Wood Bridge. Great toe-party goin’ on.All kinds of ’freshments. We kin tell you some lies most any ole time.We never run outer lies and lovin’. Tell ’em tomorrow night. Come onif you comin’—le’s go if you gwine.””

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ““Y’all done sold off any toes yet?” George Brown wanted to know. Willie Mae Clarke gave him a certain look and asked him, “What’s dat got to do with you, George Brown?” And he shut up. Everybody knows that Willie Mae’s got the business with George Brown.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “I went on in with the rest and was herded behind the curtain. “Say, what is this toe-party business?” I asked one of the girls. “Good gracious, Zora! Ain’t you never been to a toe-party before?” “Nope. They don’t have ’em up North where Ah been and Ah just got back today.””

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ““Well, they hides all de girls behind a curtain and you stick”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “out yo’ toe. Some places you take off yo’ shoes and some places youkeep ’em on, but most all de time you keep ’em on. When all de toes isin a line, sticking out from behind de sheet they let de men folks in andthey looks over all de toes and buys de ones they want for a dime. Thenthey got to treat de lady dat owns dat toe to everything she want.Sometime they play it so’s you keep de same partner for de whole thingand sometime they fix it so they put de girls back every hour or so andsell de toes agin.” “

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “I staggered sleepily forth to the little Chevrolet for Eatonville. The carwas overflowing with passengers but I was so dull from lack of sleepthat I didn’t know who they were. All I knew is they belonged inEatonville. Somebody was woofing in my car about love and I asked him abouthis buddy—I don’t know why now. He said, “Ah ain’t got no buddy.They kilt my buddy so they could raise me. Jus’ so Ah be yo’ man Ahdon’t want no damn buddy. Ah hope they kill every man dat ever cried,‘titty-mamma’ but me. Lemme be yo’ kid.” Some voice from somewhere else in the car commented, “You sho’Lawd is gointer have a lot of hindrance.” Then somehow I got home and to bed and Armetta had Georgiasyrup and waffles for breakfast. “

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s