From Trickster to Badman: The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom

From Trickster to Badman: The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom

From Trickster to Badman: The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom

From Trickster to Badman: The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom

Synopsis

To protect their identity and values, Africans enslaved in America transformed various familiar character types to create folk heroes who offered models of behavior both recognizable to them as African people and adaptable to their situation in America. Roberts specifically examines the Afro-American trickster and the trickster tale tradition, the conjurer as folk hero, the biblical heroic tradition, and the badman as outlaw hero.

Excerpt

We often use the term "hero" as if it denoted a universally recognized character type, and the concept of "heroism" as if it referred to a generally accepted behavioral category. In reality, figures (both real and mythic) and actions dubbed heroic in one context or by one group of people may be viewed as ordinary or even criminal in another context or by other groups, or even by the same ones at different times. The diverse ways in which people conceptualize the hero and heroic action seem to be precisely what Robert Penn Warren had in mind when he observed that "To create a hero is, indeed, to create a self." To create a hero, however, from Warren's perspective, is not merely to embody in a literary from a mirror image of the self at a given moment in time. Rather, the heroes that we create are figures who, from our vantage point on the world, appear to possess personal traits and/or perform actions that exemplify our conception of our ideal self, the self that our personal or group history, in the best of all possible worlds, has prepared us to become. Or, as Warren notes, "The hero does not merely express a pre-existing soul, is not merely a projection of that soul, the hero belongs primarily to the process whereby the soul emerges." In other words, a hero is the product of a creative process and exists as a symbol of our differential identity. As such, our heroes act within boundaries defined by our perception of immanent social needs and goals which are, in turn, determined by historical and emergent realities of which we, as individuals and groups, may be only dimly aware.

In this regard, heroic creation is a process very much like culture- building -- the means by which a group creates and maintains an image of itself to proclaim difference from others by objectifying in its institutions the ideals that it claims for itself. In addition, heroic creation and culture-building share at least one other important feature: in both instances, difference is equated with superiority, which, in turn, serves as the basis of group allegiance and attraction. Heroic . . .

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