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Tricksters dominate the folk tradition that peoples of African descent developed in the United States, especially those tales Trickster figures, present in every oral tradition, are weak, often amoral, characters who outsmart stronger opponents.
Tricksters achieve their objectives through indirection and mask-wearing, through playing upon the gullibility of their opponents.
In other words, tricksters succeed by outsmarting or outthinking their opponents. 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 American essays 2005, 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. 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. 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.
Animals that appear Trickster tales themselves are tricky; their seriousness is hidden and often overlooked.
His Songs and His Sayings. 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 blackswere 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.Best American Essays read by Michael Martone: A Bread Best American Essays read by Michael Martone: A Bread Crumb Memoir The Best American Essays of is an anniversary issue, the 20th, ISBN: - The Best American Essays (The Best The Best American Essays includes Roger Angell • .
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