The Gun

The gun represents power, masculinity, respect, and independence—in short, everything that Dave desperately wants. He sees the gun as the solution to all his problems and compensation for all his weaknesses. Dave resents the fact that the other field hands treat him like a child and therefore mistakenly believes that owning a gun would instantly make a man out of him, even though he doesn’t know how to fire one. He mistakenly reasons that owning a gun would also somehow provide him with independence, as if knowing how to fire it would keep him out of the fields and provide him with greater opportunities. Dave fantasizes about shooting at Mr. Hawkins’s house, which suggests that Jenny’s death has taught him nothing and has only made him crave power, independence, and masculinity even more.

The Mule

Jenny, Mr. Hawkins’s mule, represents Dave himself, who fears working as a subservient field hand on another man’s land for the rest of his life. Dave consciously recognizes the similarities between himself and Jenny, even saying to himself before running away that everyone “treat[s] me like a mule, n they beat me,” alluding to the thrashing his father had promised him. Dave believes that all he does is toil like Jenny, yoked to a plow with little hope of reward, escape, or becoming something better. The mule also represents commitment and responsibility, hallmarks of adulthood that Dave is still unwilling to accept. He wants only the freedom that he imagines adults have without any of their obligations. Jenny’s death is consequently the symbolic death of Dave’s childhood, which he wishes to erase to escape the community and a life of drudgery. Ironically, the power that Dave associates with owning a gun brings change but forces him to embark on a journey to manhood for which he’s not yet ready.