Trickster Figure in Native
In Native American
Literature, the “trickster” figure is best known as a shape-shifter—it
things to all people. Trickster is but a
creator and destroyer, a truth-teller and a liar.
One of the primary characteristics
of the trickster figure is its ambiguity.
In Native American Indian mythology, where tricksters are a
feature, they are said to appear as supernatural creatures, usually
important mythological role in human creation—often unintentionally. It is important to note that although these
creatures are supernatural in origin, they never appear god-like. The trickster, however, can take many forms
and usually transform himself into others if he wishes.
Tricksters often laugh, play jokes, and delight
in wicked and scandalous behavior which, however, has a tendency to get
trickster in trouble. Often, in fact,
the trickster is also a fool, and his scheming plans come back to bite
Many times, a
trickster might seem to perform a heroic action (the reason this
often thought of as a cultural hero) such as fighting with a monster;
this heroic behavior is usually unintentional and often followed by
foolishness where he may be seen doing something disrespectful or
disreputable. Tricksters are also said
to be wanderers with characteristically enormous appetites for food and
sex. These characteristics often
to a trickster’s predicaments, as well as run-ins with death, of which
trickster is usually able to survive and rebound.
In addition to
acting as the creator in myths (like the very popular coyote), the
also plays significant roles in other tales where humans already exist
lack the necessary skills or social behavior pertinent to human beings.
trickster is said to bestow certain gifts on humanity such as food,
animals, fire, flint, and tobacco, as well as the regulation of weather
seasons. A trickster can also bring
mortality, portrayed as a necessity to humanity. For
example, in a Winnebago trickster tale,
Hare originally makes humans immortal but soon realizes that
cause humanity to cover the earth, which would create great suffering
insufficient food supplies. He thus undoes his gift to create a natural
between humanity and the ability of the earth to support life.
Relaying the Trickster
In many Native
American communities, trickster tales were often orally presented,
usually in a
creative or dramatic telling. Trickster tales often served as source of
entertainment as well as morality tales for children; therefore, the
usually narrated by a highly respected member of the community. Trickster tales were among the most
entertaining these specialists presented.
It is said that although many of the members of the community
known the tales, it was the specialists who memorized the tales. The maintaining of the trickster stories was
thus able to be continued and successful.
As the teller of the tale, s/he was permitted to expand or
tale as s/he saw fit as long as the plot and primary characters were
The drama in the tales such as the absurd and scandalous behavior, as
comical mockery, made them material for easy listening.
were presented as morality tales for children because, as the trickster
himself in trouble because of excessive pride, lust, or greed, children
be reminded of proper behavior. Some
authorities believe that the trickster tales served as safety valves
as well by making fun of serious rituals or difficult social situations.
All in all, the
trickster figure challenges notions of good and evil, along with every
aspect of cultural sophistication. Ultimately,
however, the trickster shows us what may be the hardest to admit: the
Cox, James H. Rev. of Living Sideways: Tricksters in
American Indian Oral
Tradition, by Franchot
Ballinger. MELUS Summer 2005, 30 (2) 252-55.
David J. Minderhout. "Tricksters." American
Indians Ready Reference. Salem
Dragonfhain, Thunderspud of. “The Riddle of the
Trickster.” The Internet Book of
Sacred-Texts.com. 10 Oct.