Chapter 23

Raven: A Native American Trickster

The discussion of tricksters was begun as part of Claude Levi-Strauss' theory in Chapter 22 and continues in this chapter. The trickster is typically a figure between two worlds who gains inspiration and power from the realms he bridges. Because he is not completely invested in these societies, the trickster is freer to disregard the morals and standards held dear by them and to behave in ways that their members would find improper or unacceptable. From his unique position, the trickster can also be a valuable asset to humans by creating and providing what they need. This chapter introduces Raven, a complex figure from the Northwestern Coast of North America. In the context of trickster figures, Raven's bringing light to the world has similarities to the Greek figure Prometheus' bringing fire, or to other characteristics of Greek Hermes and Norse Loki.

Like African and African-American tricksters (Chapter 24), Raven lives on the fringes of society. Although he may have some godlike attributes, he is different from the trickster-gods in the Greek and Norse traditions. In Native American mythology, there is a symbiotic relationship that extols the idea that all of nature participates in creation as keepers of the earth.

As you read, you may want to consider the role of the storyteller in producing different versions and styles of the same myth. Also, it may be useful to compare these stories and the Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo creation stories in Chapter 8. Finally, Chapter 26 contains discussion of the meaning and significance of working versions of a myth such as the ones found in this chapter.

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