Native American Vs African American Trickster Tale

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The tale of the trickster is a universally known and shared story that has numerous versions and is culturally diverse. Virtually every culture has its own variation of the trickster tale. For instance, the early West African people have tales of Eshu, while in modern day America, characters like Wile E. Coyote, popularized by Warner Brothers, are examples of tricksters. Japanese culture has the story of Susa-No-O, and even the ancient Greeks had similar stories featuring the character Hermes.

Despite the involvement of numerous cultures, one might expect a variegation in the tales and myths. Surprisingly, this isn’t always the case. It appears that trickster stories embody this human characteristic where when a character is tricked, they seek revenge on their rival.

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The main purpose of action in these folktales is to seek revenge for the wronged character. Without the desire to see justice served, there would be no motivation for both the reader and writer of these stories. The absence of this theme would disregard the need for justice and allow wrongdoing to go unpunished. This fundamental aspect of human nature is what gives these stories their timeless appeal across generations. It is an intrinsic belief that a wrongdoing must be rectified, and the trickster tale satisfies this inherent human need.

Alongside retribution, the concept of punishment is intertwined. It is not only necessary to seek revenge, but also to feel completely vindicated, the adversary must be penalized. At times, we become our own adversaries. If we have wronged someone, we feel compelled to be punished, and occasionally, whether consciously or unconsciously, we inflict punishment upon ourselves if we do not receive it from an external entity. Thus, this notion of punishment is also inherent within us.

The necessity for punishment is satisfied by the trickster tale. Each time the character is gullible enough to be deceived by one of the vengeful tricks, they face consequences for their foolishness and, essentially, for having previously punished the other character. For example, in the story “Rabbit Tricks the Coyote,” the coyote falls for the rabbit’s deception and tries to drink all the water to reach the cheese. In the end, he suffers from a stomachache and diarrhea as a punishment. In “Uncle Remus,” Brer Rabbit is punished by getting trapped in the tar-baby and being ridiculed by his opponent.

The narratives also explore the theme of illusion. In the story of the tar-baby and Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox deceives Rabbit by making him believe there is a person in the road. Similarly, in Rabbit Tricks Coyote, Rabbit convinces Coyote that the moon’s reflection in the water is cheese at the bottom. This theme connects to storytelling’s overall purpose – creating illusions of characters, places, and events or temporarily tricking one’s senses into perceiving certain things in their imagination. It harnesses readers’ imaginations and adds a magical and fantastical element to the narrative.

The concept of illusion contributes to the understanding of enchantment. Literature, especially myths and folklore, is highly skilled at transforming the unimaginable into reality. This is evident in the African American and Native American trickster tales, where animals are personified and subsequently enchanted. It is solely within these narratives that a fox, rabbit, or coyote can devise intricate schemes as portrayed in the trickster tales.

The incredible achievements of these animals are beyond human comprehension. For example, imagine attempting to create a baby from tar. Moreover, in a Native American tale featuring the coyote, he observes an old elk skull and miraculously transforms himself into a smaller size to enter the skull and enhance his vision (Hynes and Doty 3). In truth, such extraordinary feats are unattainable in reality, but become possible through the art of storytelling and the enchanting theme within.

The prevalence of talking animals, magical feats, punishment, and retribution for wrongdoings is most commonly observed in today’s world through cartoons, bedtime stories, and Walt Disney major motion pictures. These elements primarily cater to children and serve as a common motif in these narratives. Additionally, the utilization of basic structures and fairy-tale methods in these stories make them easily comprehensible and captivating for imaginative young minds.

The tales of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, which many people remember hearing during their childhood, are similar in structure to the Coyote Native American tales. These stories written by Harris are concise and straightforward, without excessive description or unnecessary embellishments. One notable aspect of Harris’s storytelling is that he presents the narrative as if it were being relayed to a seven-year-old boy.

The opening paragraph of the tiny novel starts with Miss Sally searching for her little boy. She spots him through a window with Uncle Remus, who is about to start telling him a story. This event clearly indicates that the stories are primarily aimed at young readers, although older individuals also enjoy them. Furthermore, it highlights the recurring theme in trickster tales of African Americans and Native Americans, which emphasizes the shared purpose and meaning in these myths. Despite not always being intended to teach a lesson, they often serve as a reminder not to be naive and that karma exists.

The Native American campfire tales aren’t solely for entertainment purposes, nor do they primarily delve into religious or unexplained phenomena. However, these stories do serve as a mirror to our own often absurd nature. They offer an abundant well of cultural introspection and critical self-awareness, leaving us contemplative yet amused. The way a culture embraces humor reveals its liveliness, adaptability, and inventiveness (Hynes and Doty 4).

The true meaning of each tale is determined by its essence and intended audience, which remains accurate. However, these stories also act as mirrors reflecting our own selves. Through the characters within them, we can identify our flaws and find humor in our actions, whether consciously or unconsciously, while keeping it concealed from others. They serve as a reminder that no one is flawless and that imperfection is acceptable. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean we should lower our defenses and easily yield to everything; if it happens occasionally, we must regroup and regain control.

Trickster tales are more than just bedtime stories for children or folklore about talking animals. They are a literary genre that universally addresses profound human desires for retribution and punishment. Moreover, they also offer important reminders and lessons to both adults and children in various aspects.


  1. Christmas, Darren. Rabbit Tricks Coyote. Dinetahs Home Page. February 27, 2001
  2. Christmas, Darren. Coyote and the Hen. Dinetahs Home Page. February 27,
  3. Harris, Joel Chandler. Uncle Remus. New York: Avenel Books, 1985.
  4. Hynes, William J. and William G. Doty eds. Mythical Trickster Figures. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1993.

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Native American Vs African American Trickster Tale. (2019, Mar 01). Retrieved from

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