Discussion 3/23

One question I had, especially after the Mules and Men reading, was about how eager the African Americans in Eatonville and Polk County were to share their stories. In both places, there were reservations at first about wanting to put the stories down for others to read. In Eatonville, George Thomas said, “Who do you reckon want to read all them old-time tales about Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear?” In Polk County, people are in disbelief about people wanting to read the stories as well. But in both places, as soon as they got used to the idea, the people were eager to share tales to be written down. There were even people wanting credit for their stories, and those who went up to Zora to tell her stories they weren’t able to tell in a public setting. My question is, what caused such a big shift in attitude?

3/23 Discussion Questions

I was curious about the reading of Hurston and comparing her to Synge. Is she an insider or an outsider in the communities she’s writing about? And how does she characterize herself within these interactions, particularly in regards to how her speech differs from the tone of her writing ?

Do either of these categories make her distinctly different than Synge?

My other question was about the significance of the word lie to storytelling.  When Hurston seems to be performing similar preservative work to Synge, finding and capturing folk culture, something predicated on authenticity,  what is suggested by those telling the tales calling them lies?

3/23 Discussion

How does the significance of the folklore stories in Mules and Men change without surrounding context? Is the time and place of each story indispensable?

Are the tales in Mules and Men a form of mimicry? Throughout the story these tales are referred to as “lies”. What kind of feeling does this create around the stories?

How does the question of originality in “Characteristics of Negro Expression” reflect the idea of the inability to create art for the sake of art, as discussed with “In Dahomey”?

3/23 Discussion Questions

Adding on to Julian’s questions, there were a few questions I had that I was hoping we would get to discuss as well.

To start, does Hurston fit into the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance? Mules and Men was published near the end of the Renaissance timeline. Do you see it as a part of it or something that marks the beginning of a new literary era?

Why do the people refer to the stories as “lies”? What does this say about how they view the stories? How does it affect how the audience comes to interpret the stories?

On page 20 of Mules and Men, a man makes a remark about preachers and how they have no greater authority to preach as they aren’t any different from anyone else. This moment stuck out to me. Why did Hurston include this? What did this moment mean to you? Did you take it to be something larger than a man complaining about preachers?

I was also hoping to talk about whether anyone saw differences in the stories she was told in Eatonville, where she was welcomed and considered a local, and the stories she heard elsewhere, where she was considered to be an outsider. How does one’s position in the community affect the stories that they are told?

3/23 Discussion Questions

  1.  How does Hurston’s Mules and Men relate to Alain Locke’s wish to “scrap the fictions” and start fresh in the Harlem Renaissance?  Can the two works and ideas coexist?
  2. How do the gendered stories in Mules and Men relate to our conceptions of “other” in the transatlantic world?
  3. Does Johnson’s wish to emulate Synge suggest a similar type of cultural performance which we discussed within Synge’s description of the Aran Islands despite his intentions to be authentic?

Discussion Questions for Monday (3/23)

How can we compare Hurston in Mules and Men to Synge in the Aran Islands and Joel Chandler Harris in the Uncle Remus stories? Are they after the same goal? Do they approach their goal the same way? Do they achieve the same thing?

Is Mules and Men a work of minstrelsy, specifically thinking about the dialect?

How does Mules and Men relate to the Harlem Renaissance? Is Hurston working within the New Negro ideology or doing something entirely different?

What do you make of the way Christianity is treated in Mules and Men and Characteristics of Negro Expression (p. 27)?