The in-group

A Reading Note

Hyde’s analysis of trickster tales leads him to an image of tricksters as characters who cross over cultural boundaries—often those which exist to impose an inequality. Their methods may be perverse or ethically questionable, but without those tricks, they’d never break through:

[Communities of gift exchange] are very fine if you are part of the in-group. But what if you’re an outsider, or what if you’re inside but the customary commerce always leaves you beneath your “betters”? All the wonderful gift exchange in tribe A is little help if you’ve had a crop failure and belong to tribe B. The small business club down the street may have a fine program for start-up capital, but what if it’s for white folks only? What if all the male scientists swap data and you happen to be a woman? What if students at your high school always get scholarships to trade schools, never to elite universities? In cases such as these, you may have to resort to some form of subterfuge to get ahead; if others won’t give, you may have to steal.

Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, page 204

More importantly, the trickster’s boundary crossing often leaves a path for others to follow. Hyde also compellingly (and almost unbelievably) compares Frederick Douglass to the trickster myths, identifying Douglass’ theft of his own body as a boundary crossing. Sadly, Douglass continued to feel like an outsider even after gaining his freedom, never able to fully join the white community that helped him escape. I’m reminded of Meeker’s writing in The Comedy of Survival: unlike tragic characters (whose heads are often carried off stage absent their bodies), comic characters survive until the end of the play. Alas, survival does not guarantee happiness.

Related books

Trickster shows how our most playful, devious stories are also (perhaps not surprisingly) our most revealing.

The Comedy of Survival

Joseph Meeker

Meeker argues that the destructive aspects of western civilization are founded on the tragic mode, while the comic mode offers a path for redemption.