Gendered Masks of Liminality and Race

Black Female Trickster’s Subversion of Hegemonic Discourse in African American Women Literature

by Yomna Saber (Author)
©2017 Monographs 138 Pages


Shape shifters, purveyors of chaos, rules’ breakers, crude creatures and absurd figures, tricksters can be traced as recurrently transgressive figures that do not wither away with time. Tricksters rove and ramble in the pages of literature; the canon is replete with tricksters who throw dust in the eyes of their dupes and end up victoriously. But what if the trickster is African American? And a female? And an African American female? This book limits the focus to this figure as delineated in the writings of: Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison. The black female trickster’s battles provoke unique strategies of tricksterism. Her liminal positionality is distinguished for she occupies myriad peripheries in terms of class, race and gender; in addition to her social oppressions, and carrying within a legacy of African spirituality and an excruciating history of slavery. The black female trickster subverts hegemonic discourse individualistically; through tricks, she emerges as a victim who refuses victimization, disturbs the status quo and challenges many conventions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction. Liminal Positionalities and Ploys of Tricksterism
  • Chapter One. Zora Neale Hurston and the Hamartiology of the Trickster in “Sweat”
  • Chapter Two. Alice Walker: Tricking Through Conjuring in “The Revenge of Hannah Kumhuff”
  • Chapter Three. Reconceptualizing the Archetypal Trickster in Audre Lorde’s Mythobiography Zami: "A New Spelling of My Name"
  • Chapter Four. Carnivalizing Race: the Trick of the Grotesque in Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”
  • Conclusion. Pay No Attention to the "Woman" behind the Curtain: Subverting Hegemonic Discourses
  • Works Cited

← 6 | 7 →


Liminal Positionalities and Ploys of Tricksterism

“To find the truth-teller, seek the trickster.”
Arthur W. Frank.

Seeking the Trickster Within

Have you ever been tricked? Was it a shrewd trick? How did this make you feel about yourself? More importantly, how did it make you feel about the one who duped you; your trickster? The story of the “Tar Baby” in African American folklore displays a good trick and introduces a cunning trickster. One day Brer Fox decided to get rid of Brer Rabbit once and for all. He made a doll out of tar and dressed it like a baby. Brer Rabbit was intrigued by the figure and tried to approach it, but when he was met with sheer silence, he felt furious and punched it, and hence he got stuck. Brer Fox felt triumphant and started negotiating with Brer Rabbit how to end his life; he could roast him, hang him, or drown him. Each time Brer Rabbit responded in agreement pleading Brer Fox not to throw him into the briar patch. Brer Fox thought that this would be the best way since it would tear him into pieces and he decided to throw him into it. However, once thrown into the thickets, Brer Rabbit set himself free and escaped through trickery. Brer Rabbit is one of the most famous tricksters, but he is definitely not the only one.1 ← 7 | 8 →

Shape shifters, purveyors of chaos, rules’ breakers, crude creatures and comically absurd figures, tricksters can be traced in a lot of texts as a recurrent and transgressive figure that does not wither away with the passage of time. Tricksters permeate in almost all cultures such as: Coyote and Raven in Native American tribes, Hermes in Greek mythology, Monkey King in Chinese mythology, Eshu-Legba in Yoruba pantheons, Anansi in West African folklore, and Brer Rabbit and John the Conqueror in African American tales, to mention but a few. They exist universally and they are tightly sewn into the fabric of almost all mythologies and folklores. This fact raises the question: what is the significance of tricksters? What role can only be performed by a trickster since it is definitely not a matter of merely playing tricks? In other words: what is the crucial function of the trickster?

The trickster is the meek weak who can be easily and acceptably stepped upon, coerced or simply ignored; hence tricksterism is a question of survival. The trickster’s function is to teach us the lesson that the punier and the smaller can still be triumphant. Tricksters shift the attention from the center to the margin; the margin of common hierarchies, of language, of traditional behavior and also of social ethics. They lay the emphasis on the oppressed, the vulnerable, the silenced, and the one who is usually unnoticed. Tricksterism makes the invisible visible and reminds us that the frail can defeat our strength without miracles, magic, or divine intervention; tricksters can defeat us by simply playing a trick. The existence of tricksters is crucial because they are not framed within orthodox dualities such as good and bad, right and wrong, human and animal, in addition to other binaries. The tricksters’ liminality enforces a third space that embraces their actions and transcends our conformist ideological boundaries. Tricksters bring into the world an oxymoronic harmonious contradiction and shed light on the intelligence of the stupid and the complexity of the simple in a humorous way that provokes laughter as much as thought.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (February)
Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 138 pp.

Biographical notes

Yomna Saber (Author)

Yomna Saber, Assistant Prof. of English Literature at Qatar University, was awarded the PhD from the University of Nottingham, UK, in 2008. She published in Journal of Lesbian Studies, Journal of American Studies, Pacific Coast Philology, Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, and she is the author of Brave to be Involved: Shifting Positions in the Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks. Bern: Peter lang, 2010.


Title: Gendered Masks of Liminality and Race
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
140 pages