In Mules and Men, how are "strangers" represented?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Mules and Men is partly an anthology of folktales and the common theme of the "Stranger" in a community is seen throughout. An interesting comment regarding strangers comes in the introduction, where Hurston explains part of her rationale behind collecting and writing the stories inside. She intended to create a collection of African-American cultural folktales and so traveled among the rural areas of the deep South, and she knew that the commonly accepted stories about blacks were partially the result of a cultural reticence to give away intimate details to whites:

"The white man is always trying to know into somebody else's business... 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."

I knew that even I was going to have some hindrance among strangers.
(Hurston, Mules and Men, Google Books)

Hurston, being an educated and worldly black woman, knew that many of the more insular areas would view her as an outsider, and that she might be treated to the same sort of standoffish techniques that she knew to be common. The idea of the "other" was so prevalent that it might be seen to have "infected" her, even though she came from a similar background and roots; the reaction of cultural communities to strangers was to shun them or lock them out of more important details. Instead of avoiding her background, common to the people she interviewed, she embraced it and explained that she was not familiar with local customs; in this way, she was able to gather more comprehensive and accurate stories and interviews than other writers of the time. 


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