Motif of a Mule in There Eyes Were Watching God

12 December 2016

The Motif of a Mule In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, there is a continuous comparison between Janie and mules. Throughout Janie’s life, she has been viewed as a domesticated animal and treated like one. The author uses a motif of a mule to show the roles that Janie played in each of her relationships and how despite her struggles, she is eventually able to break free of her mule status. Nanny is the first character who implanted the mule status on Janie.

In Nanny’s opinion, white people will always rule the world and give black people all the hard work to do. She explains that black women are stuck with the load and considered the mules. She says, “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see” (14). In the end, Nanny just wants the best for Janie and wants to prevent her from becoming a mule by forcing her to marry the wealthy property owner, Logan Killicks. Although Logan Killicks has good intentions, he did not offer Janie the love and romance that she desired.

Eventually, Logan begins oppressing Janie with work and labor; he starts treating her like a mule instead of a wife. He expects his wife to pick up his slack and burden. This is exemplified when Janie will not help Logan with the outdoor work and she explains to him that he has his place (the farm) and she has her place (the kitchen). In reply to this, Logan says, “You ain’t got no particular place. It’s wherever Ah need yuh” (31). Overall, the motif of the mule is used to describe the role Janie plays in her first marriage.

In time, Janie leaves Logan Killicks for Joe Starks, who seems to be everything Logan is not. In the beginning things seem wonderful between the new married couple; however, after a while, Joe Sparks begins controlling Janie. Janie’s new husband doesn’t allow her to have a voice, and he just wants her to be his beautiful trophy wife. In this sense, Janie and Matt Bonner’s mule are exploited in similar ways. In the novel, Joe Sparks claims to purchase the mule to free it from abuse and Janie praises him for this.

However, his real motive for buying the mule is to boost his reputation in the community. The mule is just a prize that Sparks keeps in front of the store, just like the way Janie is placed on display. Unlike her other two husbands, Tea Cake does not treat Janie as if she is a mule. With Tea Cake, Janie is able to break away from the boundaries placed upon her by society and be an individual who is not associated with a mule. Instead of forcing her to work the fields as a mule, or serve as a display like one, Tea Cake treats her respectfully and teaches her many new things.

Her third husband encourages her to be an individual and views her as an equal, not as a mule. Thus, the motif of a mule is used throughout Their Eyes Were Watching God to display Jane’s character under the dominant men in her life. In each relationship, Janie is like a mule in the way she acts and is controlled. Finally, Jane is fortunate enough to meet Tea Cake who helps her to break free from her boundaries and be an individual.

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