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Food for Thought Paper

Calála's picture

Rebecca Joseph
Prof. Dalke
Food for Thought #9
November 6, 2009
The Crossing of Boundaries
The Trickster in Prodigal Summer
Throughout Lewis Hyde’ career as a writer, he has focused greatly on studying and thinking about creativity and the imagination. In his book, Trickster Makes The World, he uses a series of ancient myths to observe the archetype of the trickster and the role of “boundary crosser” that this figure plays in our world; “Every group has its edge, its sense of in and out, and trickster is always there” (Hyde, 7). Barbara Kingsolver, in her novel Prodigal Summer, incorporates the discussion about wilderness versus civilization and creates a line between the two. She uses the relationship between Eddie Bondo and Deanna, to relate both sides of the debate, showing the pros and cons of either opinion. In the story, “Predator,” Deanna operates as a manifestation of the archetype of trickster, as she lives on the boundary between the mountains and the city, demonstrating a trickster’s ability to cross boundaries when driven by hunger. Kingsolver’s creation of Deanna as a trickster, accentuated by her celebration of coyotes, must be questioned, however, because of her gender. 
Deanna takes on the role of trickster by crossing the boundary between wilderness and traditional urban society. Deanna made the conscious choice to leave her hometown to take a job with the forest service, and although she attempts to leave one world and enter another, the arrival of Eddie Bondo forces her to skirt along the boundary. In her mind Deanna still lives the memories of her hometown; standing up on the cliff, she thinks about the natural appearance of her hometown, but “her heart contain[s] other perspectives on it.” The narrator reveals how Deanna’s thoughts focus in on “Oda Black’s store, where Eskimo Pies lay under brittle blankets of frost in the cooler box…a whole childhood in the palm of one valley” (Kingsolver 17). By isolating herself in the mountains, Deanna becomes closer to the natural world around her, but she is still not able to suppress all desires for her old life. Just as trickster is driven by hunger and desire, Deanna is motivated by a yearning for both worlds, the natural and the human. “Trickster’s intelligence springs from appetite in two ways; it simultaneously seeks to satiate hunger and subvert all hunger not its own” (Hyde, 23). Similarly, Deanna’s ability to live in both worlds stems from her personal desire for wilderness and also her need to challenge the stereotypical, modern, human desire to distance oneself from the natural world.
Kingsolver’s creation of a parallel between Deanna and the mythological trickster archetype provides an opportunity to include wilderness politics in her novel. Deanna’s stance about hunting is not a strict anti-hunting policy, but rather a sentiment of balance based on knowledge of predation. After Eddie kills the turkey, she says, “Predation’s a sacrament…Removing a predator has bigger consequences for a system” than removing the prey (Kingsolver, 317, 319). Eddie represents the opposing argument as he supports hunting and sees no fault in killing the predators. Deanna’s belief in her intelligence about ecological cycles is comparable to the “creative intelligence” I think the trickster derives “from appetite” (Hyde, 17). Her hunger for a deeper connection with nature drives her to find evidence to support her ideas about predator-prey relationships, but her faith is sometimes blind, mimicking trickster’s ability to “get snared in his own devices” (Hyde, 19). While Deanna’s passion is tracking the coyotes that she believes live on the mountain, she fears that Eddie’s goal as a hunter is to kill these same creatures. However, Deanna does not flee from Eddie or ask him to leave. Instead she falls in love with him, tangling herself with the one person that contradicts her intelligence.
The first and final chapters of Prodigal Summer emphasize the physical similarities between Deanna and the female coyote, suggesting the spiritual identity of traditional coyote trickster and Kingsolver’s modern recreation of this archetype. Chapter one opens with a description of Deanna walking alone through the woods: “her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits. But solitude is only a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot” (Kingsolver, 1). The final chapter closes the novel with an ambiguous description of the coyote that repeats phrases from the beginning: “if someone in this forest had been watching her… solitude is only a human presumption” (Kingsolver, 443-44). The ambiguity of these descriptions makes it difficult to distinguish between the human and animal subjects of these sentences. Kingsolver’s use of identical language in describing the activities of her protagonist and an animal that serves a symbol for the trickster solidifies Deanna’s role as the human trickster, bridge between the nature on the mountain and the human world of the city.
Despite the fact that Deanna fits the role of Lewis Hyde’s trickster, it is important to realize that the trickster is a traditionally masculine role, which poses a problem for a female protagonist. The issue of gender becomes most apparent at the end of the novel when Deanna realizes she is pregnant and chooses to descend from the mountain. By choosing to give up her independent life on the mountain, Deanna is removing herself from the physical line between wilderness and civilization, therefore lessening the degree to which she fits into the description of a trickster. Deanna’s pregnancy forces one to consider whether a woman can play a trickster’s role, or whether Lewis Hyde’s trickster is a strictly male figure.
It is possible to use Paula Gunn Allen’s book, The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, in addition to Hyde’s works about the trickster in order to gain a more complete understanding of Deanna’s character. In the section of her book entitled “Kochinnenako in Academe: Three approaches to Interpreting a Keres Indian Tale” Allen presents three versions of one traditional Keres tale. After describing the raw Yellow Woman story, she first discusses the Keres interpretation, but then also includes a modern feminist and tribal feminist interpretation. By comparing three varying interpretations of one story, Allen is “describing modes of perception and their impact on our understanding of cultural artifacts” (Allen, 226). Allen’s essay proves that personal prejudices and preconceived biases have a huge impact on how a person reads a story. For example, when looking at the Yellow Woman story the Keres interpretation focuses on “the ritual,” and because this reader “is of course aware that balance and harmony are two primary assumptions of Keres society,” he or she sees that the story celebrates the natural rituals (Allen, 233-34). However, the modern feminist sees the Yellow Woman story as a story that shows men using “a passive female figure as a pawn in their bid for power” (Allen, 234). The most relevant part of Allen’s essay when analyzing Kingsolver’s book, however, is the third view of the Yellow Woman story. Allen shows a tribal-feminist interpretation, combining both the feminism and tribal values.
This idea of combining multiple interpretations of a single story to arrive at a more complete and appropriate version can be applied to Barbara Kingsolver’s “Predator.” While at first I analyzed Deanna’s character strictly using Lewis Hyde’s definition of a trickster, this is not sufficient because Deanna is a woman. Not only is Deanna female, she is also an extremely independent and strong-willed woman, who is described with characteristics usually tied to feminism. “Her body is free to follow its own rules,” with her “long-legged gait too fast for companionship” and her “unself-conscious” manner (Kingsolver, 2). For Deanna, her gender both strengthens and weakens her appearance as a trickster. Because she is a self-governing woman she is determined to fight societal constricts by working for the National Forest Service. This consequence of her gender drives her to be the boundary-crossing trickster that Lewis Hyde presents; however, her gender also subjects her the pregnancy that forces her back into normal society.
Looking at Deanna’s character through the lens of Hyde’s work is not complete, unless accompanied by Paula Gunn Allen’s philosophy. Using the ideas of both authors, Deanna can be seen as both a feminist and a trickster. Although she leaves her life on the mountain to raise her child, she can still serve the role as a trickster. Her experience in the wilderness gives her the unique ability to mentally cross the divide between her hometown and the natural world. Her choice at the end of the novel to move in with Nannie Rawley allows the reader to assume that Deanna’s child will be brought up with values of a trickster, a person not tied down by anything or anyone. Since “Nannie was the sort, she could get away with anything,” she is similar to Deanna in the sense that she is completely independent (Kingsolver, 83). Living in Nannie’s house provides Deanna with the opportunity to maintain her feminist personality. Perhaps Deanna is not a traditional trickster or a modern feminist, but is a uniquely feminist trickster.
Within the third of the novel concerned with the story of Eddie Bondo and Deanna, Deanna operates as a trickster, who skirts the line between the Zebulon National Forest and the town where she grew up. The way in which the initial description of Deanna is echoed in the closing description of the coyote mirrors the use of the coyote in traditional trickster stories. If one looks solely at the traditional definition of a trickster it is hard to imagine a woman, especially a pregnant woman, filling this role. For this reason, it is necessary to create an altered definition of a trickster by combining the traits that Lewis Hyde discusses with feminist values. This new trickster allows Deanna to maintain her role as trickster even after descending from the mountain, because she is able to bring her boundary-crossing tendencies with her. Paula Gunn Allen’s innovative interpretations of Keres literature provide a structure with which to combine multiple interpretations of a story into one. However, Deanna is not the only trickster that appears in Kingsolver’s novel. Each character is living on the line of some binary, and the many characteristics of trickster can be seen manifested in various characters. It is also possible to see more than one trickster in each of Kingsolver’s three stories, and is interesting to think about the interactions between multiple tricksters.
Works Cited
Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press.
Hyde, Lewis. Trickster Makes the World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. Macmillan, 1999.
Kingsolver, Barbara. Prodigal Summer. New York: Perennial, 2001.
“Lewis Hyde.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 24 October 2009. Web. 31 October 2009. <>.