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

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Part I, Chapter Four: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
“Babe” Hill: a woman who lives in Polk County and becomes friends with Zora.

Mrs. Bertha Allen: Babe’s mother, who runs the boardinghouse where Zora stays. Jim Allen is her husband.

Cliffert Ulmer: Babe’s son, who works in the swamps as a logger. He befriends Zora and invites her to go into the swamps with the crew.

James Presley and Slim: local musicians who play at all the parties.

Joe Willard: the man who “calls the figures” at all of the parties.

Good Black, Blue Baby, Jim Allen, Handy Pitts, Joe Wiley, Tush Hawg, Eugene Oliver, and Will “Office” Richardson: the workmen who clear the Florida swamps every day; Zora goes to work with them in order to hear their stories.

Pitts: a man who introduces himself to Zora at a pay-night party.

Zora heads down into Polk County and, although she’s excited, she realizes that the people of Polk County do not openly and immediately embrace her as they did in Eatonville. This worries Zora because she knows that such a huge and heavily populated area must be rich in folklore, and that she must win the confidence of the residents and convince them to tell her the stories.

Zora rents a room and starts a casual and distant relationship with Babe Hill, her landlady, and Babe’s son, Cliffert Ulmer. She finds out from Cliffert that she is treated with suspicion by the other residents because of her car. Zora decides to pass herself off as a bootlegger running from the law. The townspeople believe her story, since “bootleggers always have cars,” and are reassured. She meets some people who tell her about a party going on after payday and invite her. Although the party is wonderful, no one asks Zora to dance. She decides to go outside the hall and talk with the “woofers,” the people standing around the fire making conversation. However, she can see that the crowd immediately becomes less lively as soon as she is present. Finally, a man named Pitts walks up to her and starts a conversation. He mentions that the other men were afraid to talk to Zora because they thought she was rich.

Once Pitts breaks the ice, Zora is able to win their trust and has a wonderful time at the party. Later, she lets her friends know her true purpose for visiting Polk County. Although the townspeople find it hard to believe that someone would be interested in collecting stories, they decide to run a storytelling contest, which is a huge success. After this, Zora is invited by Cliffert to join the men who work clearing the Florida swamps.

The following day, Zora joins a group of men who are waiting for the foreman to take them out into the swamps to clear the woods. After a long wait, the foreman stops by to tell them that there will be no logging that day. The men are happy to hear this, believing it will mean that they will have a day off, but instead the foreman tells them to go by the sawmill to find out if they need any extra help. As the workers head off to the sawmill, several stories are told.

Zora is very excited about her trip to Polk County since it is her first real field trip. While her initial trip to Eatonville was comfortable and fun, it was not the best place to collect folktales. Zora knew that the initial advantage of going to Eatonville was the fact that the residents already knew her and would quickly provide her with stories. In this way, her experiences are not unlike the reader’s; finding herself in unfamiliar surroundings,...

(The entire section is 927 words.)