Mules and Men Part I, Chapter Eight: Summary and Analysis
by Zora Neale Hurston

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Part I, Chapter Eight: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Dad Boykin: an old man living in Polk County.

With the fishing trip winding down, Dad Boykin tells one final tale of John’s fight with the lion in order to discover who was king of the world. After the tale is told, the men gather up their fish and everyone heads for home. Jim Allen starts to comment about how young people don’t know how to eat fish properly, and when he is teased by the others he teaches them how to eat fish. Dad Boykin then gives the younger people a lesson on how to warm themselves by the fire.

As the group reaches the shacks, there is talk of the big party that night; talk is made of whether Joe Willard and Big Sweet will fight later, as they have been doing throughout the fishing trip. Big Sweet then threatens Joe Willard with violence if he cheats on her again. Everyone goes home to prepare, and some warn Big Sweet to watch out for Ella Wall, who is also going to be there.

As people start to head for the party, some notice a stranger coming into town. Although he is believed to be a bootlegger, it soon becomes clear that he is a traveling preacher. As he gives his sermon, some sit down to listen while others ignore him and continue to the party. The preacher says in his sermon that men and women are meant to be together and walk “side by side.” Once the sermon ends and the collection is made, the preacher and his assistants pack up and head for another town while everyone heads for the jook joint.

This chapter is unusual due to the presence of only one folktale. However, the folktale in this chapter is the only folktale in Mules and Men that presents a conflict between man and animal. This tale reinforces the idea that man is still dominant over nature, perhaps in response to the various animal folktales told in previous chapters. It is interesting to note that while the folktales of the previous chapter featured local animals (the gator, rabbit, snake, etc.), in this folktale John fights a lion, the “king of the jungle.” So John is, in effect, representing humanity, while the lion represents the animal kingdom. John’s victory, therefore, is humanity’s victory. While the folk hero John was utilized in previous folktales to embody the hope that African Americans might overcome oppression, he is used here to express the desire for humanity’s eventual victory over nature. Wildlife, in fact, is probably the greatest danger to the workers in the Florida swamps. As the fishing party travels to and from the lake, they are clearly concerned about snakes and alligators, and because a watchman had been killed by a panther not too long before, perhaps this folktale also reflects their concerns about the danger of wildlife.

Since there is only one folktale in this chapter, most of the chapter is devoted to narrative. The narrative themes which were introduced in the previous chapter, that of Jim Allen’s attempt to make the younger men respect him and the conflict between Big Sweet and Joe Willard, are further developed in this chapter. The fact that this is a nonfiction work explains the lack of high drama usually found in fictional works. So far there has been only one somewhat significant conflict between two characters, the hostile argument between Bennie Lee and Shug. There is definitely a dramatic turn when the conflict between Big Sweet and Joe Willard is further explored because this...

(The entire section is 916 words.)