Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston (1935)

Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

This 1935 review of Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston suggests that her account of folklore and race are important to the full picture of American history.

Studying voodoo and recalling folk stories through personal adventures and dialogue among practicing community members, Zora presents traditions that white people are rarely exposed to. Please note, this review is written in the vernacular and with the implicit biases of its era:

From the original review by John Selby in the Pennsylvania Wilkes-Barre Record, October 1935:  Those of us who were reared among Negroes sense, with exasperating finality, the underlying mysticism of the race. But very few of us, because we are white, really break through the crust and learn what it all is about.

Zora Neale Hurston, whose Jonah’s Gourd Vine is a book among hundreds, is a Negro and apparently lacks the sad feeling of contempt which seizes a good many of her race when confronted with Negroes who have had fewer “advantages” than herself. She still can mix with them, be accepted without too much reservation, and what is far more to the point, can see and remember the things thus opened to her.


The perfect writer to make this study

She is the perfect writer, then, to make a study of Negro folklore and folk practice. She has written Mules and Men from her own knowledge and experience. The book is divided into two equally important parts, one of which retells a great number of folk tales, the other of which is the most intelligent discussion of voodoo (the Negroes call it “hoodoo”) this department has seen.

The folk section contains the fabled John Henry and a host of heroes and demons and such that are more interesting than John Henry. There is no good to be had from listing the stories; it is more important to say what Miss Hurston herself points out — that the tellers themselves recognize the stories as fables. Whites often have the odd idea that the opposite is the case.

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Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston on Amazon

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Went to sources

Miss Hurston went to sources for her hoodoo material. Marie Leveau of New Orleans is dead, but Turner, her nephew, is alive and practicing. Such practices! Miss Hurston tells of him and his rituals, of many others and their rituals.

She has seen what she describes — unlike certain returned “adventures” from Haiti and such places. The story is a grand one; nobody can pretend to understand the United States without knowing it.

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Tell my horse Zora Neale Hurston cover

See also: Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston

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