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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 Two. Alice Walker: Tricking Through Conjuring in “The Revenge of Hannah Kumhuff”


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Chapter Two

Alice Walker: Tricking Through Conjuring in “The Revenge of Hannah Kumhuff”

“When asked by a white professor where she had obtained her knowledge of divination and ‘trickin’ (casting spells), a Conjure woman in Alabama named Seven Sisters said, ‘It’s a spirit in me that tells—a spirit from the Lord Jesus Christ. […] I tricks in the name o’ the Lord.’” Yvonne P. Chireau.

The trickster’s ambiguous qualities dictate the use of masks to camouflage the dupes. A trickster knows when to don or drop the mask and which mask to put on in accordance with the situation of the trick; masking opens the doors wide for indirection and adornment of myriad roles to be played by the trickster. The previous chapter examined Hurston’s black female trickster who had to resort to trickery to survive and despite her Christian piety and belief in God, she tricked her husband into his own death. This chapter looks at another model of trickery as displayed by Alice Walker’s Tante Rosie in “The Revenge of Hannah Kumhuff,” published in In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1967). Unlike Delia the washerwoman who suffers from marginalization and oppression, Tante Rosie is not a defeated soul; she is a professional trickster with a mask on. Her use of the mask of conjuring hypostatizes the schema of her tricks through which she maneuvers to sustain her strength and challenge white hegemony.

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