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

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Part I, Chapter Seven: Summary and Analysis

The previous story about Br’er Rabbit reminds the fishing party of other stories, and they trade several before they reach the lake. As they walk to the lake, Larkins White shows off his new gun, and a lying contest starts between Jim Allen and him. Jim Allen says that everyone should tell fewer stories and concentrate instead on fishing, but he is dismissed by the younger people in the group. Jim then responds with a story, “The Hawk and The Buzzard,” which reflects the differences between the young and the old. The levity of the fishing trip is then disturbed when Big Sweet alludes to the infidelity of her man, Jim Willard. Jim Allen tries to restore the good humor with some tales about nature and wildlife, but almost gets into an argument with Big Sweet.

The John/Old Massa tales told while the workers were waiting for the swamp boss were poignant because they reflected the situation of black workers having to work under white bosses in dangerous conditions for low pay. In this chapter, the workers are in a relaxed setting so the stories being told are in a much lighter vein. Once again, the stories reflect the natural setting so we hear many folktales about animals and their origins.

While these folktales are in a lighter vein, they nonetheless reflect the traditions of folklore. These nature folktales usually involve the same central protagonist, Br’er Rabbit, who enjoys the same popularity among the storytellers as John does, and for almost the same reasons. The glossary comments on the rabbit-hero and its significance in folklore: “One notes that among the animals the rabbit is the trickster-hero. Lacking in size, strength, and natural weapons such as teeth and claws, he continues to overcome by cunning (p. 249).” Br’er Rabbit’s role in the animal kingdom of folklore very closely matches John’s role in the human world. As a creature who is able to survive through wit in a hostile environment, Br’er Rabbit becomes a role model for the workers.

The tale of the hawk and the buzzard, told by Jim Allen, is another example of his attempt to make the younger workers respect both him and older people in general. This time Jim attempts to teach the younger people through the folktale. Jim...

(The entire section is 580 words.)