Mules and Men Sample Essay Outlines
by Zora Neale Hurston

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Sample Essay Outlines

Topic #1
Discuss the importance of the structure of Mules and Men. Is this a narrative with a few folktales, or a folktale collection with a narrative subplot? Compare and contrast the importance of the narrative sections and the folklore sections.

I. Thesis Statement: The unusual structure of Mules and Men indicates that this book is not a fictional narrative but rather a collection of folklore written in a narrative form.

II. Narrative structure
A. Text: first-person narrator
B. Folktales: reported speech of the storyteller

III. Transitions
A. The narrative is often interrupted by folktales
B. Folklore stories are used to complement the events of the narrative

IV. Importance of the narrative sections and folklore sections
A. The folklore sections are separated from the rest of the narrative and can be told on their own
B. The narrative sections, by contrast, exist mostly for the folktales and are not dramatic enough to be read outside of the context of narrative as part of a folklore collection
1. In fact, the narrative story is abandoned with loose ends left unanswered
2. Once enough folklore is collected, the narrative can be set aside

IV. Conclusion
A. The folkstories are necessary to the narrative
B. The narrative could not exist without the folklore

Topic #2
Comment on Jack and Br’er Rabbit as folk heroes. What qualities can you identify as typical of a folk hero, and what makes these characters so popular in Mules and Men?

I. Thesis Statement: The folk heroes Jack and Br’er Rabbit are important in African-American folklore because they personify the intelligence and wit which allows them to continue to struggle and prevail against more powerful antagonists.

II. Use of folklore in Mules and Men
A. The folktales reflect the situations of the townspeople
1. Jack/Old Massa – while waiting for work
2. Br’er Rabbit – during the fishing trip
B. Townspeople look to the folktales to impart wisdom to their own lives

III. Comparison of Jack and Br’er Rabbit
A. Jack
1. Main attributes: wit and cunning
2. Strength of spirit
B. Br’er Rabbit
1. Frail, “always skeered,” but crafty
2. A trickster

IV. The importance of villains in folktales
A. Old Massa
1. Directly reflects the structure of power in society
2. Indicates that slavery is still in the mind of the African American
3. Embodies all that is unfair in society today
B. Br’er Rabbit’s opponents
1. Animals like the alligator and the dog
a. Similar in power to Old Massa
b. Always outsmarted, like Old Massa

V. Conclusion
A. Tales told reflect the workers’ desire to prevail over the power structure
B. Folk heroes’ attributes are desirable qualities for the workers to have
C. Reveals workers’ optimism for the future

Topic #3
What opinion is the reader supposed to have toward hoodoo after reading Mules and Men? Describe your own attitude while reading the book, and cite examples from the text to show how you believe Hurston wants the reader to react.

I. Thesis Statement: The text of Mules and Men is designed for the reader who is unfamiliar and perhaps skeptical toward hoodoo. Though the mythology and history of hoodoo is outlined, the actual power of hoodoo remains a mystery to the reader until Zora Hurston undergoes several terrifying rituals. These rituals are described in such a way as to make the skeptical reader uncomfortable, and possibly change his or her opinion about hoodoo.

II. Introduction to hoodoo
A. Hoodoo lurks beneath the surface of society
1. Hurston mentions that those who practice hoodoo are “secretive”
2. Mrs. Silas and Mrs. White hide their true beliefs at first
B. Eulalia introduces the reader to hoodoo spells

III. The history of hoodoo and its purpose
A. Hurston outlines its mythology
B. The stories about Marie Leveau
C. The reader shares Hurston’s respect for hoodoo

IV. Hurston’s various apprenticeships
A. Her rituals become increasingly complex
B. The Black Cat Bone ritual
1. Horrifying, even within the context of hoodoo
2. Hurston herself is unsure of what she is doing...

(The entire section is 1,120 words.)