Crackerbox Philosophers in American Humor and Satire

Crackerbox Philosophers in American Humor and Satire

Crackerbox Philosophers in American Humor and Satire

Crackerbox Philosophers in American Humor and Satire

Excerpt

Our literary history contains a remarkable series of satirical portraits of the common American. Every age, every country has its imaginary representations of the boor, the clown, the peasant, and the small bourgeois. Such groups of portraits often grow into recognized character types, or are taken over by men of letters after a long existence in popular anecdote. In drama they afford comic relief, in the novel they furnish atmosphere, local color background for realistic movement or picaresque adventure. There are plenty of persons resembling Launcelot Gobbo or Sancho Panza. Rarely does there arise a Reinecke Fuchs, a Til Eulenspiegel, whose tricks and misfortunes, homely wisdom, and shrewd observations on the life about him are given a certain moral or social or political significance; who becomes a symbol of a class-conscious people, a personification of the folk.

Behind a certain group of American character types, through the veil of American humorous caricatures, I seem to glimpse such a folk-hero, the homely American. This fellow, whether he be Yankee, or Southerner, or Jewish clothing merchant, represents the viewpoint of the man of the people. With wise saws and rustic anecdotes and deliberately cruel innuendo he interprets the provincial eccentricities of American life and the petty corruptions of American political intrigue. Hosea Biglow, Josh Billings, Bill Arp, Mr. Dooley, Abe Martin, are successive incarnations of Uncle Sam, the unlettered philosopher.

There is a continuity about the persistence of this homely type in our American literature which suggests a national . . .

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