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.