Illustration of the profile of Janine Crawford and another person facing each other

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

Start Free Trial

What is the significance of the mule's funeral and the buzzards in Their Eyes Were Watching God?

Quick answer:

The mule’s funeral represents Joe Starks’s need for attention and praise and refers to women’s subordinated position. When he bought the skinny, abused mule from Matt, he did not give Janie credit for suggesting he do so. After the poor animal died, by staging a funeral, Joe sought the townspeople’s praise for his generosity. The buzzards’ attack shows the real status of the mule and, by extension, social attitudes toward women.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The mule that dies had belonged to Matt Boner, and Joe bought it to prevent further abuse. Janie had protested the townspeople’s harsh treatment, but Joe never shared with the townspeople that Janie had prompted his apparently kind gesture. The mule was too far gone and soon died.

Having a funeral for the animal was part of Joe’s ongoing quest for recognition, which he constantly tried to gain by making grand gestures. Joe’s emphasis on show over substance also relates to his treatment of Janie. He expects her to play a secondary role, quietly minding the store and supporting all his endeavors. The connection between a mule and a woman had been established in the novel’s early chapters, when Janie’s Nanny says that the “n— woman is de mule uh de world.”

Using personification to describe the buzzards in the sky and trees, Zora Neale Hurston says they were having a meeting and that the trees “were peopled with” them. Despite the attempt to present the mule as human-like in importance, Joe and the others have not completed the ritual with burial. Rather, they have abandoned it to be scavenged. This lack of concern further represents Joe’s ignoring his wife’s needs and, by extension, male disregard for women.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial