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Gendered Masks of Liminality and Race

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

Yomna Saber

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.

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Chapter One. Zora Neale Hurston and the Hamartiology of the Trickster in “Sweat”


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Chapter One

Zora Neale Hurston and the Hamartiology of the Trickster in “Sweat”

“Hurston perceived herself always as knowing how to ‘work’ white people, i.e. manipulate them for her own ends. Often she did this by playing the role of faithful caring darky, all the while believing in her power to subvert the situation without ever being found out.” bell hooks.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) was one of the prominent icons of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Deplorably, as much as she enjoyed fame and success for a short period of her life, her name dwindled and she died as a pauper burying her opus with her, only to be resurrected after Alice Walker’s article “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” published in 1975.1 Ever since, Hurston leaped from the margin into the center of the literary critical corpus with her magnum opus Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) taking the lion share of the attention. This chapter, however, examines her short story “Sweat.” It argues that ← 31 | 32 → Hurston’s protagonist Delia is a female religious trickster.2 The chapter first gives historical evidence that shows that Hurston herself could be seen as a trickster for she had to adopt a lot of trickster-like actions in her pursuit of her goals. I then draw upon examples of tricksters in her work, especially her anthropological folklore collection Mules and Men (1935) which is replete with animal and human tricksters that...

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