Trickster and Hero: Two Characters in the Oral and Written Traditions of the World

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In executing their actions, they give no thought to right or wrong; indeed, they are amoral. Mostly, they are pictured in contest or quest situations, and they must use their wits to get out of trouble or bring about a particular result. For example, in one African American folktale, Brer Rabbit, the quintessential trickster figure in African American folklore, succeeds in getting Brer Fox to rescue him from a well by asserting that the moon reflected in the water at the bottom of the well is really a block of cheese.

Brer Fox jumps into the other water bucket, descends into the well, and, in the process, enables Brer Rabbit to rise to freedom. While frequently humorous, trickster tales often convey serious social critiques. Though trickster tales in African American culture are frequently a source of humor, they also contain serious commentary on the inequities of existence in a country where the promises of democracy were denied to a large portion of the citizenry, a pattern that becomes even clearer in the literary adaptations of trickster figures.

As black people who were enslaved gained literacy and began to write about their experiences, they incorporated figures from oral tradition into their written creations.

The Trickster and Hero

In fact, some scholars have argued that the African American oral tradition is the basis for all written literary production by African Americans. To get a sense of this influence and these interconnections, it is necessary to explore the African American oral tradition.

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During slavery, trickster tales with human characters reflected the actual behavior of the people telling and hearing them. People of African descent who found themselves enslaved in the New World, and specifically on United States soil, were not brought to the West to create poems, plays, short stories, essays, and novels.

They were brought for the bodies, their physical labor. Denied access to literacy by law and custom, anything they wanted to retain in the way of cultural creation had to be passed down by word of mouth, or, in terms of crafts, by demonstration and imitation. After long hours of work in cotton and tobacco fields, therefore, blacks would occasionally gather in the evenings for storytelling.

Tales they shared during slavery were initially believed to focus almost exclusively on animals. However, as more and more researchers became interested in African American culture after slavery and in the early twentieth century, they discovered a strand of tales that focused on human actors. It is generally believed that enslaved persons did not share with prying researchers the tales containing human characters because the protagonists were primarily tricksters, and the tales showcased actions that allowed those tricksters to get the best of their so-called masters.

In some of these instances, as Lawrence W. Levine notes, perhaps the actions of the characters did indeed reflect the actions of those enslaved. Levine makes clear that there was a short distance between trickster tactics in life and those that constituted the tales black folks created. Animals that appear Trickster tales themselves are tricky; their seriousness is hidden and often overlooked.

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Their kinship to fables thus enabled the seriousness of the tales to be overlooked at times. The violence and comeuppance that characterize these tales, frequently with larger animals whites being bested by the smaller Brer Rabbit blacks , were passed over as readers focused more on the fanciful portrayals of imaginary animal worlds. It was not until the s and the founding of the American Folklore Society that collectors observed a strand of tales that did not disguise the actions between blacks and whites.

In these renderings, John, as representative of enslaved blacks, manages to get the best of Old Master in almost every situation in which they are pitted against each other. Contest dominates their interactions in a world where the weak and the witty always triumph over the powerful and the presumed intellectually superior. The patterns that were set in the oral tradition found their way early into African American literary creations.

As early as the s, North Carolina born Charles Waddell Chesnutt realized that he could achieve much as a writer if he imitated the pattern that Charles Chesnutt's trickster tales do cultural and political work.

Harris had set in his Uncle Remus stories. In a series of stories that he finally collected as The Conjure Woman , Chesnutt created Uncle Julius, a raconteur left over from days of slavery, who entertains his white employers with tales of enslavement. These sometimes extranatural tales feature animals and humans who manage frequently to execute trickster tactics and improve their lot.

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For example, in one tale Julius recounts how an enslaved man is spared being sent from one plantation to another by having his wife, who is a conjure woman, turn him into a tree. The trickery works until a Charles W.

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Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman. As this tale makes clear, Chesnutt adapts and explodes trickster conventions. The ruses of trickery in the various tales might work for awhile, but they serve more importantly to convey the horrors of enslavement, which is where the second level of trickery occurred in The Conjure Woman. Julius succeeds in convincing Annie, the wife, of the horrors of slavery even if her husband, John, remains skeptically detached from the emotional truths that underlie the magical workings of the stories.

Contemporary with Chesnutt, poet Paul Laurence Dunbar also incorporated trickster ideas and figures into his works. Both Dunbar and Chesnutt were writing at a time when strictures on black creativity were prominent. Neither dared to indict whites directly for the conditions under which blacks suffered in slavery, during Reconstruction, or in the late nineteenth century.

They could, however, imply such responsibility through the development of trickster paradigms. The trickster in the twentieth century In terms of twentieth century adaptation of trickster figures in African American literary creation, perhaps Ralph Ellison represents the epitome of the practice. In reality, the community is about to explode. In other literary works, trickster strategies border on the con artist tradition when blacks use them against members of their own community. The trickster in the twenty-first century Although the circumstances that made the trickster an obvious model for action during the nineteenth century no longer exist, the appeal of the character remains attractive to African American writers in the twenty-first century.

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As recently as , Toni Morrison adapted the figure for inclusion in her novel Love. Adaptation is the appropriate word here, because the trickster turns out to be the narrator of the novel. She does so quietly, effectively, in an effort to prevent Cosey from leaving his fortune to the elusive Celestial. She also shares his amorality and becomes godlike in her assumption of the right to mete out life and death. Her actions also include the unusual dimension of working to achieve an objective more for the benefit of others than for the self.

Tricksters engage in trickery to overcome social inequality. Con artists use trickery to defraud. A starting point might be to get students to understand the difference between conning and con artists versus tricksters and trickery.

Oral Literature in Africa

Con artists can obviously con others who are their intellectual and social equals or perhaps even their superiors. Certainly someone gets taken, but that taking is not couched in racial terms or in terms of social inequality. Tricksters, on the other hand, often attempt to level the playing field, to reduce the inequity in social and power situations.

Persons of lesser social status, such as African Americans during slavery and immediately following, could work indirectly to bring about whatever measure of equality they could manage.

Trickster-God-Creator Essay

Tricksters are self-consciously aware of their manipulation. They recognize the distance between them and their victims. It is also necessary to delineate between mask-wearing and uncle tomming in connection with tricksters and trickery. They are in control of that manipulation, and they never forget that their motives and objectives are antithetical to those of the persons against whom their trickery is directed.

Uncle Toms, however, do not separate themselves from the mask or from the society of which they are a part. Their objectives are commensurate with those of the prevailing society or power structure within which they exist. During slavery, an Uncle Tom might have offered heartfelt praise to his master, reported to his master on the transgressions of blacks around him, and believed that slavery was generally the correct place on the scale of being for blacks to exist. From considering the best meaningful Looking events to and kaolinite, it enables on auspices in the ensemble - Understanding equivalence on receptor location, bulk LANs, and Layer 3 artifacts.

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He does not teach her about the Makkewek, and when the Makkewek, a type of mythical sea creature, appears to her, she dies of fright. The Bushmen may perhaps provide one instance of this, and the Pygmies or some of the Nilotic or West African peoples may provide others. Morris Slater, aka Railroad Bill, reputedly killed a white policeman in Alabama in self-defense in Wenebojo realized that Wolf had been careless and had neglected to place a stick across the stream. The hen is still searching for the razor, and the vulture compensating himself for its loss.

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The trickster and the hero, found in so many of the world's oral traditions, are seemingly opposed but often united in one character. Trickster and Hero provides a. Trickster and Hero Two Characters in the Oral and Written Traditions of the World Harold Scheub “This is an exciting and ambitious book, one that brings African.

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