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Yardsticks

Retarded Characters and Their Roles in Fiction

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Patricia Puccinelli

A retarded character is often used in fiction as a conventional device. This study traces its history from the court fools of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries up through the characters in twentieth-century works. Puccinelli identifies the retarded character's role in narrative in terms of the following five categories: the yardstick (the most prevalent of the five), the wise fool, the catalyst, the window pane, and the accessory. Though this discussion is limited to American fiction, the analysis perseveres in other national literatures and in other media, including film and television.