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.”