Jokes, Tales, and Worries

Trickster Tales in Modern American Folklore
Charles Wukasch, Austin Community College

Shuckin’ and Jivin’ to Get Ahead: The Trickster Motif in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
Antoinette Polle, Texas Woman’s University

A Supernatural Phenomenon: The Living, the Dead, and the Dybbuk
Amy Frazier, University of Texas, Brownsville

America’s Missing Literature: Native American Literature in Mainstream Courses
Jeromy Miller, Northeastern State University, Oklahoma

Jeromy spoke on the need to pay attention to native American stories. I mentioned his metaphor in Metaphors from Popular Culture.

I thought he had some really good points and I disagreed with him. I don’t think that native American literature is any more quintessentially American than Hawthorne or Thoreau. I do think they are equally American, though.

Jeromy wants us to read native American works in class. I would agree with that, if we are reading them for a purpose. If we are just reading them to be reading native Americans, then that is not doing our classes or them any favors. The works need to stand on their own merits. For that, I think they should be read either in sections with creation myths, such as the story he shared with us, or in oral stories written down sections, with Brer Rabbit and the like. They are not great literature, but they are part of history and should be read.

He talked about how a person he spoke with said, “It’s oral literature, not literature.” But Beowful was also oral literature earlier. Now we examine it from a literature perspective. Of course, that has only happened since Tolkein; before that only morphologists read the work. We still don’t look at Beowulf from an Old English rhetoric perspective. (Maybe I could get a conference paper out of that.)

I also noted that in response to his comment, “Nothing seems more like American literature than that written by the indigenous people who were already here.” In response to this, I wrote: Does this make the native American of European descent “the other”?

Charles told a lot of jokes, most of which I had heard before. He discussed the point of the jokes and discussed jokes only in terms of trickster tales, where the jokes are turned on one of the characters in the joke. It seems to be a very relevant topic because just yesterday one of the radio talk show people was talking about whether or not we can tell such jokes in the modern era.

I noted Daniel Fenton and Ed Cray as important names in trickster studies.

I’ve only heard of tricksters before in terms of Native American stories, so it was interesting to get this perspective on jokes.

I learned a lot about Invisible Man, some of which I didn’t want to know. “You’re a black man in the South. Have you forgotten how to lie?”

Antoinette talked about Trueblood, who was a really great story teller. But his storytelling brought him money when he told the tale of incest, where he got his daughter pregnant. That sounds so innocuous put that way. But it’s the way Antoinette told it.

I was appalled that incest could get him money and that people gave him money because he told those tales. It made me wonder where that is happening now. You know when we give money we are supporting that thing. So these people, the sheriff and Mr. Norton, were supporting incest.

–The panel chair suggested that this same thing is happening with the woman who has had 14 children on disability in the last ten years, including octuplets.

Amy’s talk was on human spirits haunting the living. She talked about the movie Gothika which looked awful/scary/terrifiying, but I should probably watch. A murdered rape victim inhabited a psychiatrist’s body to get revenge on her murderer. The Secret is about a mother inhabiting her daughter’s body when her daughter is dying and the mother is trying to get her to live. There’s some incest possibility there, too.

She also talked about novels where the dead can take possession of bodies: Things Fall Apart, The Shelters of Stone.

Then she spoke about Tio Tomas whose life has been difficult because of a falling sickness, which doctors cannot isolate a cause for. However, his niece dreamed a cuandera told her that Tomas’s dead brother Mateo was haunting him. That same night Tomas heard a loud, demonic yell. And the haunting/falling stopped. Eight months later, at a funeral, the falling started again.

True story. It makes me wonder if she made a mistake to admit that this was her uncle. When academics study, they don’t usually acknowledge personal experience. (I’m going to write about that soon.)

One thought on “Jokes, Tales, and Worries”

  1. I wasn’t saying that she shouldn’t have said it was her uncle. I was wondering if she should not have.

    Two days before I went to the conference I was asked a question and when I replied with personal information I was told that personal info was not what was wanted in academics…. So I was wondering about that.

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