Hughes expresses his frustration with stereotypes seemingly in both the Black and White communities. He expresses his displeasure with society through comparing a mule to himself. A mule is an animal that is the offspring of the breeding of a horse and a donkey. It is possible that these two animals can represent the two types of dominant races of people in the United States during the time Hughes wrote this poem, bringing out more the social problems Hughes was compelled to write about.
After the audience understands that Hughes has compared himself to the mule, the line “He got a grin on his face” shows Hughes’ ability to overcome the stereotype. The grin seems to be implying that has learned how to overlook those people who show him disdain. Also the grin seems to be implying something further. The mule is not considered an intelligent animal. Society tells Hughes to be quiet and to not show his intelligence. Hughes is aware of this. He knows what people are saying about him. He chooses to laugh at his oppressors. I believe that laughter is his reaction because he has been able to experience freedom and walk in confidence with the knowledge of who he is a person and their words are simply words. It as if he almost scoffs at those who look on him with condescension and low expectations.
Think of a mule. It is an animal used for hard labor. It is not beautiful. It is not fast. It cannot win races or gather fame for its owner. The Black experience until Hughes’ time can be a comparatively similar experience based on the fact that Blacks in America were laborers for centuries, commanded by others, and not acknowledged. The mule is grinning because no matter what command he is given he still has a choice to move. Even as an animal, he might still have a small amount of control over one aspect of his life. Similarly, Hughes, who is bombarded on a daily basis about what mold he must fit into, has still chosen to be who he knows he is; not that he is neither stereotypical Black, nor White, but that he is Langston Hughes. His knowledge of this realization makes him smile as well. The freedom to be an intelligent, educated, and socially aware Black man is the resolution of this poem. Hughes has found comfort in a difficult social situation and is able to cope with it through poetry.