“Mules and Men”: The Importance of the Traveler to Expanding the Black Identity

The character of the “vagabond” or the “traveler” is not one unfamiliar to the works popularized in the Transatlantic period. As seen through characters like Gulliver from “Gulliver’s Travels” and Zora from “Mules and Men,” these characters who make the effort to leave the comfort of their previous environments for the sake of learning more about the world and cultures other than their own show the importance of learning through diverse experiences.

In the Introduction to “Mules and Men,” author Zora Neale Hurston discusses the story of her data and folklore collection of many different black cultures in the deep South during the 1930s. When discussing how she went about collecting this variety of folklore, Hurston stated that ” [t]he best source is where there are the least outside influences and these people, being usually under-privileged, are the shyest,” (Hurston, 2) meaning that the best people to collect this kind of information from were those who were the most uninfluenced by mainstream American culture. 

Many times in this class, we have discussed how significantly ideas surrounding race and racial identity dominated mainstream American culture and how based on that, certain people would or would not be able to participate in certain aspects of this culture. Additionally, this emphasis on ideas of race and racial identity also manifested in the cultivation of very harmful generalization and stereotypes of different races, specifically for black people. 

The only way in which people began to realize how subjective and complicated the black identity could be was through the writings of authors like Hurston who traveled in order to collect diverse data. By traveling through the South and collecting the folklore of these black communities who were not so much dominated by the racial stereotypes of mainstream American culture, Hurston was able to begin expanding and adding dimension to the black identity as well as break down the generalizations and the stereotypes that dominated mainstream American culture.