I write this post not because I have knowledge or any particular interest in mules. I have never owned or lived with an owner of mules, although I’ve heard many stories told by ancestors who once owned them.
I present this excerpt from William Faulkner's Flags in the Dust to illustrate how a skilled writer pens words that grab you and won't let you go; captures a solid sense of time and place; explores the deep strata of history and legend.
The fiction of William Faulkner is populated by unforgettable characters caught up in the brutality and tenderness of the human condition, during a tragic time in our nation's history. His themes are universal, however: tradition, family, community, the land, history, race and the passions of ambition and love.
Sometimes, he gives us a slice of downplayed humor, as in his discussion of mules.
“Some Cincinnatus of the cotton fields should contemplate the lowly destiny, some Homer should sing the saga, of the mule and his place in the South. He it was, more than any one creature or thing, who, steadfast to the land when all else faltered before the hopeless juggernaut or circumstance, impervious to conditions that broke men’s hearts because of his venomous and patient preoccupation with the immediate present, won the prone South from beneath the iron heel of Reconstruction and taught it pride again through humility and courage through adversity overcome, who accomplished the well-nigh impossible despite hopeless odds, by sheer and vindictive patience. Father and mother he does not resemble, sons and daughters he will never have; vindictive and patient (it is a known fact that he will labor ten years willingly and patiently for you, for the privilege of kicking you once); solitary but without pride, self-sufficient but without vanity; his voice is his own derision. Outcast and pariah, he has neither friend, wife, mistress nor sweetheart; celibate, he is unscarred, possesses neither pillar nor desert cave, he is not assaulted by temptations not flagellated by dreams, nor assuaged by visions; faith, hope and charity are not his. Misanthropic, he labors six days without reward for one creature whom he hates, bound with chains to another whom he despises, and spends the seventh day kicking or being kicked by his fellows..”
In typical Faulknerian style, paragraphs and sentences are long, the punctuation at times irregular. The above is only a portion of a paragraph that runs on for approximately 430 words!
If you want to learn interesting facts about mules, information is at the American Mule Museum. There are fascinating facts here, most of which I didn't know. It gives one a new appreciation of the humble mule.
If you regularly read this blog, you know I am on a quest to read all Faulkner major works by the end of 2014. And I am making good progress. So far I have completed (and thoroughly enjoyed):
The Sound and the Fury
Flags in the Dust
There Was a Queen (short story)
Today I will begin reading Light in August.