In this short story “Mule Killers” by Lydia Peele we meet three generations of a family, grandfather, father and son as well as the different women in the story. The story is told in present time by the son as a first person narrator, but almost everything in the story is a flashback of the father’s story about his youth.
The story is constructed in parts; you get introduced to the lives of the father and the grandfather with no introduction of what has happened before, and then, the story jumps to the end in the present, without letting the reader know what has happened in between and what will probably happen after the story ends.
The story takes place on a farm on the countryside near Nashville in the Southeast of United States. Though the story, you get an impression of an isolated society where the church is central and people has got quiet and ordinary lives while they work hard to make a living from their farms.
The language in “Mule Killers” is observing, which we can see in the description of Eula: “(…)her hair swept up off her neck, thick purple-black and shining, the other girl’s hanging limply down, onion paper pale(…)” In the story we hear the father tell the son about the events that changed their lives: how he met the mother of his son and also had to give up on his dreams of love and how the lovestory of what should have been innocent turned out to be the thing that shaped his future.
The tragic love story represents the way the farmland was changed in the future. Firstly, the shift from mules to tractors in the farming symbolises several things. For the grandfather, the shift to tractors and the following accident marks a new time that he does not accept and he does not take him. This we get an example of in this line: “you’re gonna see a future I can’t even stretch my mind around. Not any of it. I can’t even begin to imagine. ”
For the father, the loss of his mule Orphan, which was one of the things that he really cared about represents the end of his childhood. The mules is a symbol of the future and the killing of them is a bad sign for the future and also is the point of no return in this short story. The shift from child to grown-up is the main theme in this story, but also the fathers struggle to live up to his fathers ideals of what a man is, is an important aspect in the story.
In his trying to be and act like a grown-up he supresses his fears and his sadness and also the things he love: music and the mules. So it’s like he cannot cultivate these interests any longer. Another important theme in the short story is time. During the story you get a feeling of time passing by. The father goes from being a young man to having a son, who is twice as old as the father was when the son was born, the farming changes and goes from using mulls to tractors.