Mules and Men Part I, Introduction & Chapter One: Summary and Analysis
by Zora Neale Hurston

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Part I, Introduction & Chapter One: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Zora Hurston: a student who returns to her hometown, Eatonville, in order to collect folktales.

George Thomas, Jack and Charlie Jones, Gene Brazzle, B. (James) Moseley, and “Seaboard”: a group of cardplayers who are the first to greet Zora when she arrives in Eatonville.

Hiram Lester: the mayor of Eatonville.

Ellis and Armetta Jones: a couple who lives in Eatonville. Armetta is Zora’s childhood friend.

Zora Hurston is a folklore student in New York who is chosen to do some field research aimed at the collection of African-American tales. When asked where she wants to go, she chooses Florida because it is her birthplace and she knows from her own experience that it would be a wonderful place to collect folklore.

When Zora arrives at the general store in her hometown, Eatonville, she is greeted by several locals who immediately recognize her, including the mayor of the town. Everyone seems surprised that people would be interested in the “big old lies” that they like to tell each other, but once Zora reassures them, they immediately oblige her with the story of “John and the Frog.”

After Zora is a little rested, some men invite her to a “toe-party” over in a neighboring town, Wood Bridge. Although she has no idea what a “toe-party” might be, she quickly agrees to go. While everyone gets ready to leave, James tells her the story of the “Witness of the Johnstown Flood in Heaven.”

The “toe-party” involves the women present at the party hiding behind a curtain with only the toes of their shoes visible. Each man chooses a girl and then dances with her and treats her to whatever she wants. Zora is paired off with many different partners and has a wonderful time. She returns to Eatonville early in the morning, and, although tired from last night’s party, she wakes up early, eager to collect more stories.

Before we begin the analysis of the book, it will be helpful to review some literary terms which will be used throughout the guide. The student who is unfamiliar with literary analysis might be confused by the terms narrator and narrative. The narrator is essentially the character in a book who relates the events of a novel to the reader. In the case of Mules and Men, the narrator and the author are the same person, Zora Neale Hurston. Narrative is the sequence of events within a novel told to the reader by a narrator. So, when narrative is described in this guide, it is a reference to the action that takes place within the novel.

When analyzing Mules and Men, one might wonder whether the book should be read as a work of fiction or nonfiction. Hurston uses techniques from both styles, so the structure is unusual and might not be familiar to the literature student. The narrative style is well established at the beginning; the folktales are placed throughout the text between Zora’s own account of her adventures in Florida. Therefore, the reader must distinguish the narrative (Zora’s adventures while collecting folktales) from the folktales themselves. Hurston is writing the narrative from her own point of view, so the reader is able to read Hurston’s thoughts as if she were the narrator of a fictional work. However, since Hurston is acting as a reporter as well as an author, the reader may assume that the dialogue from other characters is, in fact, reported speech. This idea is reinforced through Hurston’s use of dialect ; the words of the townspeople are...

(The entire section is 898 words.)