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

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Part I, Chapter Two: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Bennie Lee: a drunk man who tries to tell stories for the group.

Shug: Bennie Lee’s stepsister. She argues with Bennie Lee while she is trying to tell a story.

Gold: a woman who breaks up the storytelling by arguing with Gene.

The day after the “toe-party,” the same people Zora met on the store porch are there again, playing cards. Seeing Zora, they invite her over and let her know that if she wants to hear folktales, they plan to tell a lot that night. Since there is a church lesson going on while Zora is talking to them, they begin to talk about preachers. A couple of fables about how to become a preacher are traded among the townspeople. Zora then wonders why different church factions are fighting against each other. Charlie tells a tale that explains why the churches are separate.

Once the tale is finished, Gene and Gold start arguing about who has darker skin, which leads to the legend “Why Negroes Are Black.” This leads to a discussion about the difference between women and men. Mathilda Moseley tells a fable that explains why women are able to take advantage of men. The discussion continues until Shug’s attempt to tell a story is interrupted by a drunk Bennie Lee. The two begin to argue (rather than playfully tease as the townspeople had been doing), but Bennie Lee is so drunk that he falls asleep.

In this chapter, the reader should notice that the telling of tales takes up much more space than the telling of tales in the previous chapter. Furthermore, the issues discussed in these stories are much more serious than the lighthearted tales exchanged in the first chapter. Themes, such as man’s relationship to God, church, and women, are explored deeply, showing the depth and variety of African-American folktales.

The first half of the chapter deals with the discussion of the church; it is apparent that the townspeople view the church cynically. The true motivation for becoming a preacher is put into question: Is it to follow God or simply to avoid work? Charlie’s tale, “How the Church Came to be Split Up,” illustrates that the inability to sacrifice, along with selfishness, are the sources of the schism between the churches.

The relationship between men and women in Eatonville is also explored in this chapter. Although the “toe-party” might have seemed sexist to the contemporary reader, the folktales in this chapter reinforce the special relationship men and women share. The folktale, “Why Women Always Take Advantage of Men,” crystallizes the idea that women compensate for inferior physical strength with wit and psychological strength.

As important as the tales themselves is another aspect of them which cannot be...

(The entire section is 711 words.)