In Their Eyes Were Watching God, what is the significance of the mule?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The rich symbolism that is given to the figure of the mule in this excellent novel clearly concerns both the position of black women in this world but also provides a comment on the character of Janie's first husband, Logan. Consider how her grandmother uses the figure of the mule to comment on the hardships of being a black woman in their world:

So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don't tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.

Janie's grandmother wishes that her granddaughter can enjoy a different reality, and escape being a "mule uh de world."

Secondly, in Chapter Four, we can see the mule as a symbol for Logan and the kind of man that he is. His plan of buying a second mule so that Janie can help him in the fields indicates the way that he is a mule-like figure himself, without inspiration or ambition and is slavishly closed in terms of his outlook on life and its possibilities. This of course is completely different from Joe Starks and his ambition and the way he is linked to the horizon.

Thus we can see the mule is a symbol of the position of black women, but it is also used as a symbol of Janie's first husband and his lack of ambition and inspiration.