20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2004
Although she really was born in Georgia, Hurston considered Eatonville, Florida her hometown. She originally wrote this work as a play with Langston Hughes. They had planned to call it "Mule Bone," but the two had a falling out prior to staging the work. The theater world's loss was actually the literary and folklore world's gain, and this book is a terrific study of black folklore from Florida and Louisiana. The book has wonderful folktales and descriptions of rootwork, and once the reader becomes acclimated to Hurston's use of black English, it is a pleasure to read. Hurston provided rich commentary by embedding the texts into a narrative about doing fieldwork in the 1920s. It's worth noting that Hurston compressed the amount of fieldwork time in this book as she had spent much more time in Florida than she presents in this work. It's important to keep these types of literary devices in mind when reading her book as she includes lots of allusions, hidden meanings, and clever wordplays to develop fascinating commentary on folklore.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
I read Zora Neale Hurston's novel "Their Eyes are Watching God" and wanted to read more. Hurston (1891 -- 1960) had studied anthropology at Barnard with one of the founders of modern anthropology, Franz Boas. With Boas' encouragement and funding from a private source, Hurston travelled South to collect African-American folklore. Her first stop was Eatonville, Florida, an all-black community where Hurston had spent much of her childhood. She then went South to Polk County, Florida and its sawmills and the Everglades. She went further South to Pierce and Lakeland gathering folk materials before heading to New Orleans to study Hoodoo. In 1927, she rented a small house in Eau Gallie, near Melbourne, Florida where she organized her extensive notes. Her book, "Mules and Men" was published in 1935.
"Mules and Men" is an outstanding source of information about the folk-tales, called "lies", of rural Southern African-Americans. (Florida was a gathering place for African-Americans throughout the South because of the economic opportunities it offered.) She visited old friends in Eatonville, and won the confidence of people in the other communities she visited. The tales include animal stories ("why dogs and cats are enemies", "how the snake got poison," for example) stories of pre-civil war days involving a slave named "Jack" and his master, stories of the battle between the sexes, contests between "Jack" and the devil, bragging contests, and much else. Hurston also collected songs and lyrics, including "John Henry", sermons, and hoodoo formulas while in New Orleans.
But this book is much more than a compilation of folk materials. Hurston brings her material to life by bringing the story-tellers and the communities she visited to life. She writes with deep and obvious affection for the rural African-American communities of the South in the mid-1920s. Hurston's folk-tales are embedded in a fascinating story of their own as she introduces the reader to the small towns, the parties, the sawmills, the jooks, and the life of her story tellers. One of the characters that Hurston befriends is a woman named Big Sweet who lives with a man named Joe. Joe cheats on Big Sweet, and Big Sweet puts Joe right in no uncertain terms. Big Sweet and her enemy, a woman named Lucy, draw knives with potentially fatal consequences in a fight in a jook that involves Zora. Big Sweet is a strong and convincingly drawn character in her own right. The characters and communities in the book were for me even more convincing that the stories.
The first part of Mules and Men describes Hurston's collecting of folk tales, while the second, shorter part discusses her experiences with Hoodoo doctors in New Orleans. Hoodoo played a large role in the lives of some African-Americans. I was reminded of Memphis Minnie's blues song "Hoodoo Lady" and of Muddy Waters' "I got my mojo working". The founder of Hoodoo was a woman named Marie Leveau. Hurston describes how she gained the confidence of several Hoodoo doctors in New Orleans, received initiation from them, and was in one case asked to stay on as a successor practitioner. Hurston relays Hoodoo spells used to kill an enemy, to make an unwanted person leave town, to get a lover or to get rid of an unwanted lover, and to bring help to those in jail. She recounts the stories of these conjures, of the Hoodoo doctors, and their clients with a great deal of seriousness. I found this section of the book fascinating but troubling and different from the folk-tales and people discussed in the first part of the book.
The book is written almost entirely in dialect, but I found it easy to follow as the book progressed. Hurston wrote this book to preserve an important part of African-American culture in the United States and to express her commitment to and love for this culture. She believed this culture had its own strengths and could develop its own course and destiny internally. This is a fascinating, moving book and a thought-provoking picture of one form of the African-American experience in the United States.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2001
A fantastic collection by Zora Neale Hurtson. Includes spells, and superstions, witch craft, and some of the best short stories around. She gathers up the urban legends of the 1930-40's rural south and connects you to a culture and way of thinking that is both delightful and intriguing. At times amusing; it is written in the way of oral tradition, where people gather around and tell stories, the more outlandish, the more unique the better. Her work is simply wonderful. A great book, and good for those bad weather days.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2006
Whne I was 12 years old in the Summer of 1977, I found this book at the local library. I immediately saw the connection between this and the tales my father and older Blacks told around town, and this led ot my lifelong interest in folklore.
This book was actually quite revolutionary. Up to this time, most educated Blalcks scorned the folk culture of their own people and black foklore collections were usually written by whites. While a few (such as Edward CL Adams and Julia Peterkin) got it right, the results were often patronzing at best and racist mockery at worst) as few Blacks of that time would be candid with white folklore collectors.
Zora went back to her hometown of Eatonville, Fla to the front porches and juke joints that she knew and got it down right. The tales themselves are very entertaining as is the frame story of her adventures with the locals.
If you get this and Adams' "Tales of the Congaree (and B.A. Botkin's Anthology "Treasury of American Folklore"), youll get a good intro to Black American Folklore. Enjoy.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2005
I note that one reviewer speaks about "questionable ethics" but fails to state specifically what they find questionable. I can only reply that the comment is pure nonsense. I further note that the reviewers address is NY, which may explain the comment.
As someone who grew up in the South at the tail end of the era recorded in “Mules and Men” I can only be awed at how accurately Zora Hurston captured the people and culture, the sights, sounds, smells . . .it’s all there. This is a superb book of folktales, an amazing recreation of a vanished or almost vanished way
of life . . .on so many levels this is an astonishing work of art and science.
Believe anything good you read about the book and author, ignore the rest. A bargain at the price and a lot of fun to read at the very least. An education beyond price for anyone who reads with a little thought.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2005
This is a genuine book on Hoodoo as is practiced by many in New Orleans today. Not every HooDoo practioner works the root in the same way and this book details several root doctors and their varied practices. What this book will NOT give you is the "new age" weak willed bull about karma and ethics. HooDoo has no karma, karma is a hindu concept which somehow made it's way into a whole bunch of "new age" groups and beliefs. In HooDoo, the spirits you employ may either do the work or not, its up too them, based on your offerings and sacrifices.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 1997
There are several things that make this book very enjoyable. One is the collection of folklore and "hoodoo", obtained from first-hand information. Ms. Hurston went to Florida for several months to gather her collection of folklore, and then to New Orleans for several more to study under various witchdoctors to gather the "hoodoo" information. Another is that she details her trips to these places. The stories aren't just written out and numbered; you know exactly who told them and under what conditions. I found this really helped me identify with the story much more. Finally, I'm from small-town Florida, and several of the places mentioned were very familiar to me. It's always nice to read a fellow-Floridian's work.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2007
I love this book. I can remember my grandmama and grand daddy and nem talkin' up a storm. These are real stories and people. It made me laugh and bring back fond memories.
One writer said that Zora was often scorned by the educated, black groups who had disdain for their own folk culture, the person was so right.
You could find the same scorn by the educated ministers who held pure scorn for any retentions of so called "primitive Africansim" in black American worship service. They did not consider it dignified - code phrase- not imitating white forms of worship. These same knuckleheads exist today. They espeically hated the "ring shout" and did everything in their power to stop the practice.
Big Sweet and nem were something else. A woman with a kind heart, but did not mind cutting you up, if you messed with her. Now we all know a Big Sweet.
My favorite sayings and quotes are:
Hit a straight lick with a crooked stick
Work de fat offa your head
Don't let de gator beat you to the pond
Looky-dere - I am going to put a knot your head so big when you walk down the street people gonna say looky-dere, looky-dere.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2000
This audio tape recorded by Ruby Dee of Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men absolutely makes the case for audio-books because of Dee's extraordinary performance. I seriously doubt that Hurston could do better herself. It is so great that this is the third time I am buying it. The first two copies are owned by my Mom (artist Faith Ringgold) who is bi-coastal and keeps a copy loaded in the tape player ready to play, day or night, on each coast, and the third is for me because now from listening to my Mom's tapes I am as addicted to it as she is. This is becoming true of a lot of her friends. Whether you are doing something else or just listening, it fits in perfectly, and it is full of wisdom and laughs. It is absolutely the best, and I would buy anything else that Ruby Dee ever had anything to do with because she is the glue that makes it work.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2013
Zora Neale Hurston is an American master. This book documents her submersion into the voodoo/hoodoo scene in Florida and New Orleans providing unparalleled insight into the lives of post-slavery/pre-civil rights African Americans in the South. The inventiveness of the characters, the tragicomic tales, the vocabulary, the authenticity of Hurston's portrayals, and her high-risk investment in anthropological participant observation, combine to make this book a classic, not to mention a great read.