Mules and Men Questions and Answers
by Zora Neale Hurston

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Please provide a close reading of this passage from Mules and Men by Zora Hurston: 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. How can one of major critics, such as Dubois or Ellison, explain this controversy?

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In this quote, Hurston suggests that African Americans have to always be aware of how much of themselves they reveal to the white man. The racial politics described here indicate that white people demand much of African Americans, and to maintain the peace, African Americans compromise by giving them some of that, but they still maintain their own inner lives so that they do not feel "owned" by white people.

The passage begins with the speaker saying, "The white man is always trying to know into somebody else's business." This quote establishes the idea that white people, being the race with the most power and influence at the time, expect that they can and should know everything about everyone else; the quote phrases this idea as through the white man thinks this is his right. However, the black man has a strategy to deal with this: "All right, I'll set something outside the door of my mind for him to play with and handle."

The compromise is that he will give the white man something, enough to make him think that he has some kind of inner knowledge of the black citizen. However, the black man will not allow him to truly get inside of his mind: "He can read my writing but he sho' can't read my mind." The white man can access what the speaker gives him access to, in his "writing," but there is no way for him to access the depth of the speaker's mind. The speaker continues by using some figurative language: "I'll put this play toy in his hand, and he will seize it and go away." Comparing the information given to the white man by...

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