The marital issues that arose between Joe and Janie Starks in Chapter Five are increasingly evident in Chapter Six. Janie becomes dissatisfied with tending the store six days a week at Joe's command. The labor is constant and difficult, and Joe does not forgive Janie's understandable mistakes. In addition, Joe forces Janie to wear her hair up in a head rag because he is jealous that other men have the opportunity to look at - and lust over - his possession.
A parallel situation to Joe's treatment of Janie arises with the circumstances regarding Matt Bonner's 23-year-old mule. Heckling Bonner and his mule is a favorite pastime of the Eatonville townspeople, so one day when the mule runs away a group of men tease it while trying to catch it. Janie, the only one upset by the treatment of the mule, leaves the scene muttering to herself. Joe overhears her, however, and buys the mule from Bonner to set it free in order to impress Janie and the other locals. The mule serves, therefore, the same function for Joe that his wife, Janie, does: a trophy indicating status and superiority. When the mule dies, the town holds a funeral which "mocked everything human in death," (57) yet Joe forbids Janie to attend the festivities, which she resents. For a closer examination of the mule symbolism, please see the Metaphors section.
Later, Joe and Janie fight in the store because Janie hasn't put a receipt exactly where Joe demanded the receipts be put. Janie - realizing the one thing Joe desires is her constant submission to him - begins to stand up for herself more often during their frequent arguments. Their power struggle comes to a head one night when Janie's dinner isn't good enough for Joe, and he slaps her. This serves as a turning point in their relationship, as Janie's "image of Jody tumbled down and shattered" (68). Janie recognizes she has been hiding her true thoughts and feelings from Joe, as she saves them for "some man she had never seen" (68).