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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 Four. Carnivalizing Race: the Trick of the Grotesque in Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”


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Chapter Four

Carnivalizing Race: the Trick of the Grotesque in Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”

“Interpreter, storyteller, and transformer, the trickster is a master of borders and exchange, injecting multiple perspectives to challenge all that is stultifying, stratified, bland, or prescriptive.” Jeanne R. Smith.

The previous three chapters introduced black female tricksters playing their tricks for different purposes and achieving different ends. But in addition to playing tricks, tricksters also tell stories. Whereas the last three chapters scrutinized tricksters as characters, this chapter shifts the perspective and examines the trickster as the author of the text. Toni Morrison puts on the hat of the trickster in her short story “Recitatif” (1983) where her trick employs the tool of race, and her dupes are both her readers and her characters. Tricksters, through jests, masquerading, liminality and freedom from societal strictures, incarnate the carnivalesque. Through her trick, Morrison carnivalizes race by disrupting its rigid norms and exploring its multiple boundaries. In Rabelais and his World (1965) Mikhail Bakhtin examines how the carnivalesque in Rabelais’ work blasphemously parodied and mocked the monolithic medieval ideologies through subversive subterfuges. Nonetheless, Bakhtin’s carnivalesque in literary criticism has transcended the boundaries of the carnival and emerged as a transgressive aesthetic that destabilizes arbitrary domination. By reading Morrison’s “Recitatif” through the lens of the carnivalesque, this chapter argues that Morrison is carnivalizing race through her trickster stratagems. “Recitatif” has been interpreted from a host of perspectives, but none of its...

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