“A Mule Named Hiney”

Informant Data: The informant is a Caucasian male in his mid-40’s. He works as a telecommunication engineer, and self-identifies with the Christian faith. He is a wonderful story-teller, and gets great joy from performing such for close friends.

Item: The folk-tale “A Mule Named Hiney” that follows. The following quotations are direct transcriptions of my dialogue with the informant, while the additional information provided is paraphrased.

“Once there was a grandfather and his grandson, who lived at the top of a steep mountain. There was a village far below in the valley at the bottom of the mountain, and it was a day’s long walk to and from. The grandfather and grandson had an old mule by the name of “Hiney”, and they decided it was time to take ole Hiney down to the village to sell him.

So the next morning, they woke up early and began the day’s journey down the mountain. As they headed down towards the valley, they passed by the homes of all the people who lived along the mountain road. They passed one house where there was a man outside, sipping his morning coffee. He called to the travelers “Why are you both walking that mule when one could be riding it?”

The grandfather then decided to put his grandson up on ole Hiney’s back, and continued toward town. Next, they passed a home with a woman out front gardening. She called to them “What a mean little boy, riding on the mule and making your grandfather walk!” This caused the traveler’s to pause and switch positions so the grandfather was up on ole Hiney.

The two continued on, and then came across a stable, with the owner outside brushing a horse. The owner called to them “You know, by the time you get to town, that mule is going to be so worn out that you won’t be able to trade him for anything!”

Having heard this, the grandfather and grandson decided to hoist ole Hiney onto their own backs to carry the mule for the rest of the journey. They walked on and came to a wobbly footbridge, with the village in sight across it. As they crossed, the grandfather slipped and lost his balance, accidently throwing ole Hiney over side, plunging to his death.

The moral of this story is simply: If you try to please everyone, you will lose your Hiney.”

Contextual Data: The informant first heard this folktale in his college years at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. He informs me that for the last line “you can always say, you know, “ass” instead of “Hiney”, but I this way is more charming, more kid-friendly.”  Additionally, having the metaphor of the tale come to light negates the sad death of the mule, as though he was a narrative tool and not a true character. The informant tells me this story “makes light of a very true fact of life: you simply cannot please everyone.” And the elements of the story that illustrate this metaphor can be easily extrapolated to everyday life; the rather nosey neighbors could be one’s real life neighbors, but also maybe co-workers or classmates and friends. The informant tells me that the default moral of the story is “to be confident in yourself and comfortable in the face of criticism.” While that is quite a simply-put difficult feat, folk-tales that remind us of this aspiration can only have a positive effect on the audience. Each criticism that the two received on their journey to town, were valid remarks. The changing variable was simply perspective, perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to realize of human nature. Each individual’s perspective was built from a lifetime of experiences, interactions and beliefs, evidenced most visibly in the stable owner’s remark. Having been around livestock and horses, his concern was for the mule, a stark contrast to the previous commenters. While maintaining an understanding of multiple perspectives can often be advantageous, this narrative emphasizes the importance of self-confidence and assurance in one’s own perspective.