Their Eyes Were Watching God

Mules in Their Eyes Were Watching God

When Nanny tells her young, naïve granddaughter Janie Crawford, “de nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see,” (14) she is merely setting the stage for a number of connections between humans and animals that communicate Hurston’s ideas about human relationships. Animals, particularly mules, appear as powerful symbols throughout the novel. Through anecdotes that personify animals and imagery of humans as animals, Hurston connects the two and reinforces Nanny’s belief about the societal position of black women in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Hurston’s description of animals as if they possessed human qualities draws parallels to humans in the story and subtly questions the humans’ behavior. The tales of Matt Bonner’s mule serve to establish the mule as a silly, foolish and stubborn personality and create connections between human and mule. With their stories, the townspeople give the mule character and will, as if he has a real personality: “he’s jus’ too mean tuh git fat. He stay poor and rawbony jus’ fuh spite.” (49) They even give the mule a full funeral speech and ceremony as though he was a human, just as important as any in the town. The two funerals for the mule fully establish the connection between human...

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