Mules and Men Part II, Chapter One: Summary and Analysis
by Zora Neale Hurston

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Part II, Chapter One: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mrs. Rachel Silas: a woman who Zora meets on the way to New Orleans.

Mrs. Viney White: Mrs. Silas’ neighbor.

Eulalia: a hoodoo doctor who specializes in cases involving relationships between men and women.

A few months after the events in Part I, Zora decides to head over to New Orleans, “the hoodoo capital of America.” Zora then explains how hoodoo, “or voodoo, as pronounced by the whites,” has had a long, rich history dating back to ancient times. According to Zora, as great a man as Moses was, he “would never have stood before the Burning Bush, if he had not married Jethro’s daughter.” Jethro was “a great hoodoo man” who taught Moses the power to communicate with God.

Although it is believed by many to be a myth, Zora reveals that hoodoo does have many users in the South. As she heads over to New Orleans, she meets Rachel Silas and asks her where one might find a good hoodoo doctor. Mrs. Silas jokes about it at first but soon reveals that she has a deep belief in hoodoo, which leads to a discussion between Mrs. Silas and her neighbor, Mrs. Viney White. The two ladies trade superstitions and hoodoo recipes with each other and decide to send Zora to Eulalia in order to learn from her. Eulalia is a woman who uses hoodoo in order to strengthen or break up relationships between men and women. Zora learns a few rituals during the time she spends with her. One ritual, designed to break the hold another woman has over a man, is described in detail.

The passage of time and the lack of any reference to Part I should indicate to the reader that this section of the text will leave any questions in the previous part unanswered. This section was in fact first printed as an article (see the Historical Background), so it cannot possibly operate in harmony with the previous section.

Zora Hurston takes special pains to make this material accessible to the reader unfamiliar with hoodoo. This first chapter is essentially an introduction to the material. Given the preconceived notions that readers might have, Hurston first outlines the rich history and mythology of hoodoo. During her description of the faith, Hurston makes frequent comparisons between hoodoo and Christianity, which might be more familiar to the reader. These comparisons actually accomplish two things: first, by showing some similarities between hoodoo and Christianity (such as its use of water in order to sanctify), Hurston demystifies hoodoo; second, these descriptions attempt to preempt any preconceived notions of hoodoo the reader might have. Indeed, Hurston is fully aware of how hoodoo is usually portrayed in mainstream society and scoffs at this portrayal later in the chapter.

One dramatic difference between this section and the folklore section is the seriousness of its tone; Hurston calls the mainstream interpretation of hoodoo “laughable” and maintains that the study of hoodoo “is burning...with all the intensity of a suppressed religion.” In the preface to Mules and Men, Arnold Rampersad comments on Hurston’s method of gathering information on hoodoo, a method which clearly affects her writing style:

...she is both familiar with the culture into which she is moving and also an initiate. She is known in Eatonville, but everywhere else she must...

(The entire section is 853 words.)