The Representation of Tricksters in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt

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Fraud, con-man, and hustler are all modern day terms to describe the age old character in African American literature known as the trickster. Today’s working definition of a trickster is one who swindles or plays tricks; often a mischievous figure in myth or folklore, who typically makes up for physical weakness through cunning and subversive humor. In African American literature the role of the trickster is a reoccurring theme, especially in the time period spanning from post Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. During slavery and the years that followed the image of a trickster changed from a humorous amoral figure to a cunning and socially conscious icon. Charles W. Chesnutt is a primary example of an author, who faithful employs the trickster motif in many of his published works. Traditionally, the role of trickster often presents itself when there is a powerless group who longs to transcend an oppressive social order (Jefferies, Schramm 20). In African American literature, the trickster is often depicted as someone who has the ability to manipulate situations in his/her favor, despite having little or no power. Rhonda B. Jefferies states that “the primary goal of the trickster in is social nonconformity by redefining the norms of life and existence in mainstream American society (Jefferies, Schramm 20).” Since its origin in West African culture, the trickster figure has evolved from a folklore icon, mainly in the form or various animals, to an archetype whose behavior is both contradictory and complex. The tricksters reoccurring appearance in African American folklore, narratives, poems, novels and pop culture is no coincidence. It is the trickster’s pursuit of wisdom, cunning or power in an attempt to redefine social order that makes him/her such an attractive icon. The trickster character serves as an inspirational figure for the socially oppressed and has takes on many forms when expressed in past and present literature. Many African American folk...
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