Why does Walker stress the point that black women have been seen as "the mule of the world?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For Walker, the "mule of the world" image helps to illuminate why the narratives of African- American women have remained shrouded in darkness.  In Walker's understanding, "the mule of the world" helps to explain the burden of what it means to be an African- American woman:

Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identifies one's status in society, "the mule of the world," because we have been handed the burdens that everyone else - everyone else - refused to carry. We have also been called "Matriarchs," "Superwomen," and "Mean and Evil Bitches." Not to mention "Castraters" and "Sapphire's Mama." When we have pleaded for understanding, our character has been distorted; when we have asked for simple caring, we have been handed empty inspirational appellations, then stuck in a far corner. When we have asked for love, we have been given children. In short, even our plainer gifts, our labors of fidelity and love, have been knocked down our throats. To be an artist, and a Black woman, even today, lowers our status in many respects, rather than raises it: and yet, artists we will be.

The stressing of this image conveys the struggles of the African- American woman.  This includes having to do what others did not, could not, or chose not to do.  It involves taking on burdens and weight.  It also includes having a voice silenced.  The mule is not asked or requested to take on additional weight.  It simply does as a matter of practicality, convenience, or even out of sheer ignorance.  The "mule of the world" is critical in understanding why Walker feels that the creative voice of African- American women have been silenced.  The ability to be an artist is stifled by a social and psychological condition where one is the "mule of the world."  The capacity to be an artist must be challenged when one is only a "mule."  In this light, Walker's stress on the image helps to illuminate why African- American women saw their own creative energies and passions blighted in a world that failed to and/ or deliberately silence their creativity.