What are the differences in portrayal? Is one beneficiary more valuable than the other? What about the tone of the stories? Chesnutt deals with the very serious subject of slavery in what could be considered a lighthearted way, while Walker is simultaneously playful and somber. What roles do trickster strategies play in achieving these tones? One possible controversy surrounding the trickster is obviously the clash between amorality and the presumed morality practiced by people who ostensibly embraced Christianity, as the majority of African Americans did.
The Native American Trickster Tales: a Different Kind of Hoax Essay
How could black people adhere to subversive tactics and not create a morality that was counter to the one in which they professed belief? John W. Roberts, in From Trickster to Badman: The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom , does an excellent job of treating this question in relation to Christian blacks who, during slavery, offered wholehearted support to warrior models such as Joshua and, after slavery, offered equally wholehearted support to trickster models such as Railroad Bill. Morris Slater, aka Railroad Bill, reputedly killed a white policeman in Alabama in self-defense in He then escaped, stole from the railroads, and passed the stolen goods on to needy African Americans who lived along the railroad tracks.
African Americans celebrated his trickster exploits and considered him a heroic figure. In reality, figures both real and mythic and actions dubbed heroic in one context or by one group of people may be viewed as ordinary or even criminal in another context or by other groups, or even by the same ones at different times. Listeners to and believers in such figures and tales allow a space for approval of the actions of characters within the tales without countering their own ontological beliefs. In a different context, the notion of heroism in trickster tactics is what engages Roger D.
Abrahams in his explorations of the toasts long narrative poems and stories that black men in Philadelphia used to entertain themselves in the s.
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Many of the narratives in Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia focus on less than savory characters getting the best of their adversaries through playing the role of the trickster. Students might consider, therefore, what happens to a character or a literary form that can be both positive and negative and what results obtain in either case. Again, the purposes to which the tactics are put are crucial.
Also, how can entertainment laughter as an outcome guide the use of trickster dynamics? As scholars have interpreted trickster figures in tales that were circulated during slavery, some have questioned the approach that posits trickster actions having meaning in the real historical world. Were black raconteurs during slavery really trying to reflect the actions of black and whites, or were they simply creating entertaining narratives? Bernard W. Wolfe is one scholar who believes firmly that the actions of animals in African American trickster tales are intended to represent the actions of human beings.
If Brer Rabbit is shut out of the larder and smokehouse during slavery, then he will take what he needs to be hale and hearty. Life is a battle-unto-the-death for food, sex, power, prestige, a battle without rules. There is only one reality in this life: who is on top? Similarly, while black males could not compete for the hands of white women, Brer Rabbit is able to trick his competition ostensibly the white man into allowing him to use him as a riding horse as he comes up to a porch to court Miss Sophronie.
Since such harmony is obviously not the case, then the trickster tactics and violent domination will continue in the guise of fanciful entertainment. Other commentators on tricksters in folklore as well as tricksters in African American literature include Alan Dundes, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Levine draws his information from a variety of sources that he cites in the text.
In Kindred, Dana tries to use her intelligence to get Rufus to change his slaveholding ways. Trudier Harris is J. During , she was a resident Fellow at the National Humanities Center. She has written and edited more than a dozen books on African American literature and folklore. Illustration credits. To cite this essay: Harris, Trudier. National Humanities Center. All rights reserved. Revised: June nationalhumanitiescenter. Charles W. He is a divine buffoon, a hero who breaks taboos, a rebel, a coward, and a creator.
Trickster helps establish social rules, and he deliberately flouts them. He is commonly depicted as deceitful and humorous. He is amoral, rather than immoral, and he has a voracious appetite for food and sex. In his traditional and mythic incarnations, he is almost always male. As the supreme boundarycrosser, trickster is always between classifications— between what is human and what is animal, between what is cultural and what is natural. Native American tricksters tend to be associated with animal spirits such as Coyote, Rabbit, or Raven.
Their tales are both sacred myths and simple folk tales. The most common incarnation of the Plains trickster, however, is Coyote. In his various and strikingly similar cultural guises, trickster is the self-indulgent clown who dupes women into having sex with him; he steals food from his industrious neighbors; he cross-dresses and becomes temporarily a woman; he dies and is reborn.
As expected, his tomfoolery frequently backfires. He juggles his eyes and loses them in a tree; he accidentally sleeps with his wife; he drowns in his own feces; he uses his enormous penis to attack a chipmunk who in turns bites his penis off to "human" size. Further, trickster is a cultural hero.
The Trickster farts, defecates, eats, and wants to have sexual satisfactions that are all inherent human urges and needs. Because of this, the humor seems almost slapstick in nature that allows the listener or reader to laugh and enjoy the story even more. Even though these stories are extremely entertaining they all have valuable lessons embedded in them that we can learn. The Native American Trickster Tales entertain the reader or listener; however, they also teach valuable lessons to those who read or listen to them as well.
With this process, the reader or listener can learn a new lesson with each new story.
GiggleIT Trickster Tales!
Like all literature these stories are up to the reader or listeners interpretation; however, because of the enjoyment they bring people are more apt to read or listen more closely and pull every meaning they can from every story. In conclusion, of course all Tricksters do what their name suggests, play trick and cause chaos in one form or another for man.
However, I believe I have shown how diverse they can be, from foolish to culture hero. I have also shown how entertaining their stories can be and why they are so entertaining for readers or listeners. Finally, I have shown that even though it is hard to see these stories have valuable lessons they can teach readers and listeners. Because of these reasons, I believe Trickster Tales will live on through the ages as a great part of American Literature.
Works Cited Norton Anthology. Vol A. Nina Baym, et al. New York: Norton,