Essay, Pages 6 (1499 words)
Trickster tales, a significant part of most cultures, have permeated the legends and folklore of people since the early days of civilized man. Tricksters can be very humorous, extremely deceitful, and cultural heroes as they reveal a reader’s sub consciousness and moral biases. People catch glimmers of the trickster in characters such as the Native American Indian coyote, O’Brien from the novel 1984, the slave Grandison from “The Passing of Grandison”, and stone butch lesbian Jess Goldberg of Stone Butch Blues.
These diverse tricksters found within cultures often have many commonalities with each other, and then, often they do not. But this illustrates the very nature of the trickster; ever changing, shape shifting his or her way into the lives of people.
“Coyote Outwits Duck”
Despite a trickster’s flaws, they often represent the introduction of good things to society. A trickster might bring to a culture, whether wittingly or unwittingly; important knowledge, food, and other good things, often in spite of his/her intentions.
Trickster characters appear in the narratives of many Native people throughout North America. “Coyote Outwits Duck” is an Ojibwa Legend, a traditional story of the trickster Coyote.
Coyote was walking along a lake and saw a flock of ducks, which put him in the mood for a good duck dinner. So he stuffed a bag full of grass and walked past the ducks, stepping lively and singing a catchy tune. “Where are you going? What’s in the bag?” asked the duck. “I am bringing my bag of songs to a circle,” replied the Coyote.
“Oh, please sing your songs for us,” the ducks all said. “I’ll sing a song for you, but I need your help. All of you must stand in a big circle and dance with your eyes closed. If anyone opens his eyes to look, he will turn into something bad,” the Coyote replied. As soon as the foolish ducks began dancing with their eyes closed, Coyote killed one of them. “Well, now,” he called out, “let’s all open our eyes.” The ducks did so, and were surprised to see one lying dead. “Oh, dear,” said Coyote, “look at this poor fellow. He opened his eyes and died. Now, all of you, close your eyes and dance again. Don’t look, or you too will die.” They began to dance once more, and one by one Coyote drew them out of the dance circle and killed them. At last, one of the ducks became suspicious and opened his eyes. “Oh, Coyote is killing us!” he cried, and all the survivors ran and made their getaway. The ducks went home and mourned their dead, and gave thanks to The Great Duck that one of them had been wise enough to open his eyes, and that the rest of them had been wise enough to listen to the one who gave warning.
Tricksters are very humorous, and much of this humor comes from the fact that he/she so often does things that are apparently wrong, or acts in obviously stupid or foolish ways. After hearing trickster tales, many people laugh at the silly antics; this laughter can enlighten a person’s mood and lift one’s spirit. A trickster’s humorous situations and silly actions can liberate and heal listeners through laughter.
“The Passing of Grandison” and “Big Brother.”
In the novel 1984, by George Orwell, the main character, Winston Smith, is forced to pledge allegiance to “Big Brother.” That was when he met O’Brien, a co-worker at The Ministry of Truth, and felt a connection. “I am with you, O’ Brien seemed to be saying to him. I know precisely what you are feeling. I know all about your contempt, your hatred, your disgust. But don’t worry I am on your side! And then the flask of intelligence was gone, and O’Brien’s face was as inscrutable as everyone else’s.” (Orwell 113) O’Brien passes as an ally and pretends to be sharing the same rebellious thoughts towards Big Brother as Winston. However, as the novel progresses, O’Brien reveals himself as a member of the party and arrests Winston for rebellion and not conforming to the social paradigm of Oceania. Another example of a passing trickster is Grandison from the short story “The Passing of Grandison” by Charles Chesnutt. This story is centered on Mars Dick, the son of a wealthy Colonel who owns many slaves. Mars is trying to win over his lady friend, so he attempts to impresses her by forcing one of his father’s prized slaves to freedom. The slave Grandison acts very loyal and pretends that he is content with his master and life.
When Mars tries to have Grandison run away to Canada, he does everything to stay. Eventually Mars just leaves Grandison and makes up a story to his furious father that Grandison had escaped however, a few days later, Grandison returns with a far- fetched story as to what happened to him. That he was starved and beaten and had escaped death by the skin of his teeth. Grandison was rewarded for his bravery while all along, he was tricking both Mars Dick and the Colonel into thinking he really is a loyal slave. Grandison eventually escaped with his entire family back to Canada; he really only came back to lead his entire family to freedom.
This story shows how a person will not be happy unless they surround themselves with people they love. According to Margaret Crawford’s article “Defining a Trickster”, 1984 and “The Passing of Grandison” exhibit prime examples of the ultimate trickster and how they are deceitful and master shape shifters. The characters are both protagonists and antagonists in either of these stories; both sides have a different definition of good and evil. Readers put themselves in O’Brien’s situation and realize that by turning Winston in, it reinforces the security of Oceania and its future generations. Grandison wanted the best for his family however; the Colonel wanted to be sympathetic for he rewarded Grandison for his return. A person’s individual moral bias is questioned as they observe these self-serving tricksters because it evokes one’s sub consciousness. The readers think about how much they treasure their beliefs and family, and are also made to think of their own individual well-being and how they would act in this situation.
Crawford defines Cultural Hero as: “the agent of transformation, who overturns a cruel or unfair leader or political/social system or reverses the fortunes of the more powerful party.” She characterizes the trickster as “a transformer who makes the world habitable for humans by ridding it of monsters.” The novel, “Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg is the account of Jess Goldberg, a working class lesbian who encounters prejudice from the police, her family, and work due to her appearance and sexuality. Instances of police oppression include when she was raped and sexuality harassed by officers. “They cuffed my hands so tight behind my back I almost cried out … then the cop unzipped his pants real slow and ordered me on my knees. First I thought to myself, I can’t! Then I said out loud to myself and to you and to him, I won’t!” (Feinberg 9) Another example of prejudice is when her father forces her to wear the Annie Oakley outfit. “I spent $4.90 for this Annie Oakley outfit and you’re going to wear it.” (Feinberg 26) Lastly, an instance of discrimination at work is shown when Jim Boney taunts her because of her gender and sexuality. Our sub consciousness begins to relate ourselves to Jess as we sympathize with her and try to understand the conflict she is facing. People begin to ponder if it is worth risking survival, to justify sexual orientation. Readers ask themselves if they would have the same courage as Jess, to stand up against authority only to get belittled, because it is the right thing to do. By rising up and challenging authority, Jess becomes a cultural hero, a stone butch lesbian who does not fear change and the world around her.
Tricksters are very mysterious; deviating from the common social paradigm. They have come in a variety of shapes and styles, from the Native American Coyote to the post-modern lesbian trickster Jess Goldberg. Tricksters evoke certain empathies within the reader, questioning certain moralities and norms. There are a variety of characters that bring into question the reader’s sense of normalcy and morality, often questioning a person’s subconscious prejudices along the way. Although a trickster’s actions and personality may seem ridiculous or extreme, they serve an important purpose in traditional and contemporary narratives. Tricksters may work as a kind of an outlet for strong emotions or actions in which humans cannot indulge. These actions are at the margins of social morality and normal behavior, so humans can express and feel things through the trickster that would be unsafe to express or experience outside of stories. In this sense tricksters become a way people pass, they become an “escape valve” for society.