Trickster in African AMerican LiteratureGL 2674 final
Created on May 3, 2023
MH 2674 Final
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Point of View
The trickster is a common trope in African American literature. The trickster is a character or being that is capabile of adapting who or what they are in order to survive.
Adapt to Surivive
The trickster through the Body: The trickster can be seen through our class term, the body, in The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin. Jemisin writes about the character's battling the Woman in White, a powerful being from a parallel dimension who is out to destroy the city. She is first seen as a tentacled monster trying to take over New York City, when this does not work she sends out tendrils who's bodies she can possess. She is also able to take possession of peoples bodies. In the end of the novel it is revealed that the Woman in White is actually the avatar of the city R’lyeh. Her ability to physically shape shift in order to survive and further her threats on the city makes her the trickster of the novel. One of the main characters, Manny's, first experience with her shows the Woman's abilities, "Manny blinks-and in the nanosecond that his eyes are shut, the woman's clothing turns entirely white. The suit, the shoes, even the pantyhose." (p. 61-62)
- Hogue, W. Lawrence. "The Trickster in African American Literature." The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 41, no. 5, Oct 2008, pp.873-889
- Everett, Percival, et al. “Finding Billy White Feather.” Half an Inch of Water: Stories, Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2015, pp. 109–128.
- Jemisin, N. K. The City We Became. Orbit, 2021.
- Lewis, Robin Coste. “Plantation.” Voyage of the Sable Venus: And Other Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, ©2016, 2020, pp. 3–5.
- Artwork: Alex Peter Art. "Twist of Fate". 2016.
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The Trickster through Character The trickster can be seen through the element of character in Kiese Laymon's memoir, Heavy. In the book, Laymon recalls many instances where he had to adapt to his mother's ever changing moods and needs. Laymon takes on the roles of child, husband, protector, and provider. He is constantly adapting to the changes in order to keep up. "My mother always called me her king. She said I was the reason she kept going. She said she always knew I would provide for her." (p. 226) "I stayed up all night watching the door. Every time I heard a noise, I ran to check it. I didn't know what I was looking for, but I knew I had to protect Mama." (p. 21) The trickster present through the element of character can also be seen in Robin Coste Lewis' The Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems, within the poem "Plantation". The narrator of the poem speaks about how they are in a large cage with someone. It is evident the narrator is not in a happy place, "There were fingers on the floor and the split bodies of women who'd been torn apart during the Inquisition." (p. 3), however the narrator sets how they feel aside in order to better navigate and regulate the mood of the other person, "To keep you happy, I decorated the bars." (p. 3) The trickster through the element of character shows how the trickster changes who they are to survive the situation they are currently in.
The Trickster through Point of View: In "Finding Billy White Feather" from Percival Everett's Half an Inch of Water, The main character Oliver Campbell is on a search for Billy White Feather, who left him a note about two horses for sale. Through the story, he goes on a sort of wild goose chase in order to find Billy White Feather. Each person Oliver asks has a different description of Billy. Because no one really knows who Billy White Feather is or what he looks like, he is the trickster. Through this mystery he is able to metaphorically shape shift to fit whatever anyone wants him to be. "He ain't no Arapaho and he ain't no Shoshone and he ain't no Crow and he ain't no Cheyenne. That's what I know." (p. 110) "More like Billy White Man." (p. 112) "Well maybe he ain't no Arapaho, but he's an Indian. Got a jet-black braid down to his narrow ass." (p. 117) Another example of the trickster through point of view is the play Mlima's Tale, by Lynn Nottage. While a few characters in the play could be considered the trickster, I chose to focus on Mlima's point of view. Mlima is ultimately trying to survive being hunted for his tusks. There are many examples of the elephant manipulating people or animals in order to escape, the one that stuck out to me was when Mlima used the art dealer to help smuggle his tusks. Mlima uses the art dealers greed against him by offering him money. Mlima shifts who they are to better manipulate the situation to his advantage.
Connections: 1. "The Trickster in African American Literature" In "The Trickster in African American Literature" by W. Lawrence Hogue, the trope of the trickster in African American literature is explored. Hogue states how the trickster represents the complex layers of the African American identity and how the trickster can be so empowering but also source of resistance against oppression. Hogue uses this article to highlight how the trickster has been used as a major interuption to the norm of history and society as well as provide new and different perspectives. 2. Fresh Prince of Bel Air "Clubba Hubba In this episode, Will changes who is is in order to get a girl, Mimi. With her father is a put together, accomplished, future doctor. With Mimi, he is a gangster bad boy from the worst part of town. He adapts his personality and who is according to what each of them want in order to get what he needs from them, which is approval. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N1s4yfAkhU