“Mules and (Wo)men”
In the post-civil war era, although discrimination continued, blacks were essentially free and attempting to forge and secure their newfound citizenship. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston depicts a small black community named Eatonville in central Florida during the 1920’s, trying to create their own place in society. The novel illustrates the pervasiveness of society’s patriarchal values, where women and their intelligence, especially black women’s intelligence was equated to that of “chillun and chickens and cows”(Hurston 71).
Janie, the main protagonist, grows up in this oppressive patriarchal society, but still believes that she deserves a life defined by self-actualization and emotional
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This progression begins with her first husband, Logan Killicks, who her grandmother forced her to marry for financial security. According to Janie, the idea of marriage to Logan is “desecrating the pear tree”(Hurston 14) fantasy because although wedded to him she feels no desire. She keeps on waiting for “the bloom” to appear in her marriage, and complains to Nanny, “Ah wants to want him sometimes”(Hurston 23). Hurston describes Janie’s first realization that marriage and love are not synonymous when she says “Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.” (Hurston 25) Janie’s newfound awareness that “marriage did not make love” accompanies her recognition of the patriarchal oppression women experience in marriage. Before even growing up, Janie learns her expected place in society, when Nanny tells her black women are “de mule[s] uh de world” (Hurston 14). Nanny’s personification rang true because in her time period and the periods before women were constantly objectified, physically and sexually abused, and controlled by the men around them. In the novel, the personification of black women as “the mules of the earth” comes to symbolize both their oppression and stubborn resistance to patriarchy. “Muliebrity” by definition, refers to the state or condition of being a woman, or womanhood. Ironically, the term begins with “mule” and