Chapter 6: Summary and Analysis
In this chapter, Janie's life starts to feel monotonous. She spends all her time at the store, and she isn't allowed to take part in much of the goings on around town. For instance, there's the long and judgmental critique of Matt Bonner's old yellow mule, which after many pages of "mule-baiting" and verbal abuse finally dies, standing up and very unlike a beast. Before this happens, Joe gives Matt Bonner some money to get a new mule, which everyone considers a very nice gesture. Even Janie, who resents Joe for forcing her to wear the head-rag, tells him she respects him for helping Matt out. The town holds a funeral for the mule, and Joe gives a great speech.
On Joe's porch, a group of men and women engage in a long, amusing conversation about varied topics like nature, Egypt, pharaohs, money, St. Peter, and marriage. One man borrows a dime and uses it to buy a girl a pickled pig's foot. When Joe chastises Janie for misplacing a bill, she leaves the porch and goes back into the store, bitter about her enforced silence. She and Joe stop having sex, and she starts loosening his hold over her. One day, she cuts into a conversation on the porch and says men shouldn't feel proud of their supposed "power," because the only things they've had to struggle against are women and animals. Joe summarily dismisses her, telling her that she's too mouthy. This doesn't sit well with Janie.
Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865). An American statesman and the 16th President of the United States. He's most famous for giving the Gettysburg Address, which advocated for equal rights and abolition; for freeing the slaves as a result of winning the Civil War; and for being shot in Ford's Theatre by an assassin named John Wilkes Booth. He's alluded to in this novel because of his role in freeing the slaves.
St. Peter. Saint Peter, also known as Simon Peter, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. He was crucified in Rome not long after Jesus, though he didn't consider himself worthy of being killed in the same manner as the Son of God. Tradition holds that he was crucified upside down, in part because he had previously denied Christ three times. Today, the upside down crucifix is a symbol of St. Peter, who is alluded to here half in jest in order to claim that a woman named Daisy is an angel that Peter has let out of heaven.
George Washington (1731 - 1799). The First President of the United States of America and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. His crossing of the Delaware is memorialized in a famous painting by Emanuel Leutze. He's generally regarded as an excellent statesman as well as a superb military commander, and, like Abraham Lincoln, he's best remembered for freeing a group of people from tyranny. That's why he's alluded to in this chapter.
Flowers. Hurston continues to use the motif of flowers when she says Janie "wasn't petal-open anymore."
Funerals. Though there have already been a number of deaths in the novel (including Nanny's, in addition to the implied deaths of Janie's parents), that of Matt Bonner's mule is the first we see directly. It reads at once as an inevitability and a joke, and the mule's funeral is an outrageous event that Joe uses to show off his supposed skill as an orator. His own funeral will happen without fanfare, and Janie will only spend a short amount of time mourning him. In fact, no other funeral in this novel takes up as much space as the mule's.
Hurston uses a simile when she says Daisy shines "like brand new money."
Matt Bonner's Mule. Old, rundown, ridiculed, and disrespected, Matt Bonner's mule is constantly the butt of a joke. In this chapter, the mule becomes a symbol not only of death but of decline, which will be mirrored in the following chapters as Joe goes from Mayor to invalid to memory.
Death. Unlike Nanny's death, which the reader learns about only in passing, the death of Matt Bonner's mule is drawn out, exaggerated, turned into a ridiculous and then a depressing joke for no reason other than that the townsfolk have nothing else to do with their time. The comic overtones of the death help balance the other deaths in the novel, which are invariably tragic and life-changing for Janie. Death, though frequent and commonplace, is never stripped of its power.
Domestic Violence. Most if not all men in this novel seem to think nothing of domestic violence, and they encourage Joe when he puts Janie down and chastises her about not minding the store properly. He starts to resent her for not worshipping him and constantly expressing her gratitude for him, and this leads him to think that he "ought to box her jaws!" He's not the only man in town who's violent toward his wife and children, and he won't be the last husband who's violent (physically or emotionally) toward Janie.
Sexism. Given the time period in which the novel is set (the early 1900s), it's not surprising that all of the men in the novel are sexist and that they have now outdated ideas about what women should and should not be allowed to say and do. Janie, for instance, is expected to mind the store, tend to her husband, and keep her mouth shut. This attempt to silence her links the theme of sexism directly to the theme of power, which Joe continues to wield over Janie as if he's some kind of god.