Academic journal article Western Folklore

Agency and Patriarchy in Carpatho-Rusyn Werewolf Stories

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Agency and Patriarchy in Carpatho-Rusyn Werewolf Stories

Article excerpt

Folklore is performative, and gender is an important part of who the performers are. Even in seemingly gender-neutral narrative genres of folklore, storytellers' gender impacts the narration in an important way. Raby (2007), Mathews (1992, 2005), and others have shown that a story may be told differently depending on the gender (attitudes) of the storyteller. For example, Mathews gives a vignette showing that men and women in Oaxaca, Mexico tell the story of La Llorona differently, each gender to achieve their own goals. While the father-in-law uses the story to reprimand his daughter-in-law for lingering in the streets, his daughter-in-law uses a different version of the story to assert the possibility of supernatural retribution against men who abuse their wives (Mathews 2005:109-110).

Folk supernatural stories are especially revealing of their tellers' attitudes. There seems to be a connection across cultures between the gender attitudes of storytellers and the supernatural stories they tell. This connection is particularly worthy of attention if story characters are rigidly associated with gender, as in Transcarpathian werewolf stories, where only men become werewolves (as opposed to, e.g., German tradition where a person can transform regardless of gender if she or he possesses a "wolf belt"1). Kira Sadoja and I, in another project analyzing contemporary Carpathian werewolf stories from the Transcarpathian region of Western Ukraine and adjacent territories, have shown that there are two basic types of Carpathian werewolf stories: voluntary transformation stories where the husband turns into a wolf, and forceful transformation stories, where a wife (or rarely the mother-inlaw) turns her husband (or son-in-law) into a wolf. We also argue that the stories people tell depend on their gender attitudes. In voluntary transformation stories, there is a confl ict between the ethical values of the culture: the male character is approved of for being male but disapproved of for being the bearer of evil magic. We only heard this story type from women. In forced transformation stories, cultural values do not conflict: the woman is wrong both as a bearer of evil magic and as a person of the subordinated gender. This type is told by both men and women. However, women are not uniform in their tellings: some of them give a patriarchal twist to the story where the "husband becomes a wolf and attacks his wife," while others manage to transform the plot from "wife turns her husband into a wolf" into a story of a woman defying her abuser.

Storytellers' varying attitudes toward gender in Carpathian werewolf stories are expressed not only through the stories' plots and details, but also through discursive features such as speakers' construction of agency for male and female characters. Analyzing discursive and, generally, linguistic features is not a common avenue of analysis in folkloristics. However, I believe that the analysis of language and discourse in folklore studies is vital.2 Folklore texts have always been defi ned as variable; therefore, each particular rendition of a folk story has been considered "a version," a token of larger oral tradition, and therefore less worthy of close reading than a printed and unchangeable text of a known writer.3 Yet once recorded, a rendition of a folk story is an artistic text on its own, situated in (social) place and time, produced by a certain human being. In its unique wording a recorded folk story, like a writer's creation, is both a piece of art and a subjective reflection of social reality. Both the artistic and the social part are intertwined and expressed in the language of the text. The analysis of both parts is possible only with the deep understanding of the culture's linguistic toolbox. Moreover, compared to a writer's text, a recorded story has one more dimension: it is a component of oral performance, directed to a certain audience and shaped in real-time interaction with it. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.