TeacherServe Essays

The Trickster in African American Literature

Author: Harris, Trudier (NHC NHC Fellow, 1996–97; NHC NHC Fellow, 2018–19)

Trickster figures, present in every oral tradition, are weak, often amoral, characters who outsmart stronger opponents. While frequently humorous, trickster tales often convey serious social critiques. During slavery, trickster tales with human characters reflected the actual behavior of the people telling and hearing them. Trickster tales themselves are tricky; their seriousness is hidden and often overlooked. For decades thereafter trickster tales, with their subtlety and indirection, were necessary because blacks could not risk a direct attack on white society.

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Literature / History / Education Studies / Tricksters / African American Literature / African American History / Racial Discrimination / Oral Tradition / Slavery /