November 29, 2009
Fiction that consciously explores its own status as fiction and does not try to simulate reality describes metafiction. In uninspired hands, metafiction can be a dull and abstract venture—in inspired hands, however, profound and entertaining stories provide us with a model of how metafiction could recapture the innocent wonder and delight of storytelling (Trask and Burkhart, 18). Folktales belong to all of us. They are part of our American tradition and part of the history of our country. For the most part, black folktales were created out of sorrow. But the hearts and minds of the black people who formed them, expanded them, and passed them on to us were full of love and hope. We must look on the tales as a celebration of the human spirit. As the folktales do, keep close all of the past that was good, and that remains full of promise. Fables, parables, and other types of instructive literature make their purpose clear by explicitly stating a moral or interpretation at the end of the story. Folktales take us back to the very beginning of people’s lives, to their hopes and their defeats. American black folktales originated with people who long ago were brought from Africa to this country against their will. These people were torn from their individual cultures as they left the past, their families and their social groups, and their languages and customs behind. “Microcosm” is a small world that reflects the tensions of the larger world outside (certainly this must be what these transplanted people felt)—and the author often uses symbols drawn from religion, et al., to make the point. Thus despite their outward sophistication (or not), many of the stories reveal their debt to the ancient ethical functions of fables and parables (Hamilton, p. ix).
Black folktales were first recorded in the late nineteenth century. Many Americans’ first exposure...