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Student Paper: Trickster Topic (Final Portfolio Work), Lee Wacker

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Lee Wacker



Prodigal Summer


The Archetypal Trickster

LewisHyde, author of Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art, interprets the archetypal trickster character withinvarious cultural contexts. In Barbara Kingsolver's novel, ProdigalSummer, the trickster character is embodiedin the form of the coyote as well as in the character Deanna, the National ParkForest Ranger of Zebulon Mountain. The predator prey relationship that evolvesbetween Deanna and the coyotes she is tracking is one of mutual trickery.However, Kingsolver never clearly determines who is the dominant trickster inthe relationship, Deanna or the coyote clan. My mission in this paper is todetermine who is the dominant trickster in the predator-prey relationship thatevolves between Deanna and the coyotes through Hyde’s lenses of the archetypaltrickster character.

Hyde asserts that the trickster’s main goal inlife is to “fed his belly without getting himself eaten” (Hyde 22). Thetrickster character is known for its qualities of “creativedeception…cunning…intelligence…and wit.” The trickster is known to “play withthe rules” of the predator and prey relationship, in effect creating a“constant response” from the prey in which in effect drives the “creation ofthe trickster’s intelligence (Hyde 20) Kingsolver writes that Deanna uncoveredthe coyote den, “by accident one morning when she was out looking for some signof spring” (Kingsolver 19).  SinceDeanna was not originally aware of the dens presence, Hyde would suggest thatshe is not the trickster character but merely a predator in search her pre, thecoyotes, which are actually the tricksters. However, once Deanna accidentallystumbles upon the coyote den, her behavior is characteristic of a trickster.  As a predator, in order to track downher prey, Deanna had to evolve and increase her intelligence in order to adaptto the prey’s avoidance to capture. However, this ease and facility inadaptation is an important marker of the trickster. “She stopped and stared ather feet. Here were tracks, fresh and she paused to study them out” (Kingsolver60). Here Deanna wises up to the coyotes and takes on the qualities of thetrickster. However, it becomes clear that Deanna is not the only one in thepredator-prey relationship who has wised up. “You rascal, she said aloud,laughing. “You magnificent son of a bitch.” You’ve been spying on me” (Kingsolver 62). The coyotes have also been forcedto adapt the their predator’s newly gained intelligence by becoming greater trickster’sthemselves. As Deanna has been tracking the coyotes, they too have beentracking her. Both parties have been embodying Hyde’s archetypal trickster inorder to get a step ahead of their opponent.

Hyde also cites the importance of the trickster’sability to manipulate the power of “species knowledge” in order to evolveitself to better fit a changing world. The trickster character is often knownby the name of “the imitator,” who in having no “way” as an animal “exhibits agreat plasticity of behavior” (Kingsolver 43).  Deanna, when explaining the presence of coyotes in ZebulonMountain, refers to them as “small golden ghosts of the vanished red wolf”(Kingsolver 14). She infers that they have no story themselves but are onlyknown through a patch-worked understanding of other peripheral species in theMountains. A coyote, as Hyde references multiple times in old folk stories andcreation myths, is most essentially the trickster because of its lack of“species knowledge” and “individual way.” However, at the same time, Deannaalso exhibits trickster qualities of lack of her own “species’ knowledge” and“personal way.” For example, Deanna references her lack of a mirror andinability to recognize the changing in her face from age and weathering. Shesays, “Two years alone had given her a blind person’s indifference to the lookof her own face” (Kingsolver 2). Here Deanna is also a trickster in hercontinued survival in the Mountains without the ability to see or view her ownexterior.

Hyde describes the trickster’s ultimate goal inlife as the desire to be forever free from the “trap of appetite” (Hyde23).  Hyde cites that trickster’sglorified intelligence actually arose not out of the desire to solely feedhim/herself but from the necessity of “outwitting other eaters” in order tocontinue to survive. The coyotes in Kingsolver’s novel are ambiguouslyidentified as both trickster and non-trickster, in their insatiability and theease with which they “eat nearly everything: mice, voles, grasshoppers, frogs”(Kingsolver 60).  They must eat tosurvive however; they also have the ability to eat to survive by consuming avariety of foods. This trickster “eating intelligence” enables the coyotes tolive in varying environments as well as migrate when one population of theirprey is scarce. In Deanna’s case, like the coyotes, she is not easilyidentifiable as the trickster, one way or the other, in his/her eating habits.Deanna’s food philosophies were introduced in the novel as, “she ate when shewas hungry, and anything would do” (Kingsolver 64). However, as the novelcontinues Deanna cites her eating habits as being more like “her body’scravings” and finds her stomach desiring “something “warm and particular toeat” (Kingsolver 64). Here we see the Deanna, though originally like thetrickster in her discipline of eating only out of necessity in order to ward ofthe “trap of appetite,” has now fallen into it head over heels with cravingsand desires for food. Deanna may appear to have the power to be trickster with“food intelligence” but she certainly has not mastered the ability.

DespiteKingsolver’s attempt to clarify, as well as an investigation into thecharacters, the coyote or Deanna, possess more of Hyde’s trickster’s qualities,we the reader ultimately learn that it is still unclear who is the greatertrickster of the two by the end of the novel.  Although both must increase their intelligence in order tocompete which each other in their responsive predator-prey relationship, bothpossess the trickster qualities of a lack of “species knowledge” and a specific“way” as well as “food intelligence in their mutual attempts to avoid Hyde’s“trap of appetite” neither fully master each trickster ability. Rather, boththe coyote and Deanna do invariably embody the trickster in distinctly uniquecapacities it still remains unclear whether or not one embodiment of thetrickster is dominate over the other in the novel.



Kingsolver,Barbara. Prodigal Summer. New York, NY: Haper Collins, 2000.

Hyde, Lewis. Trickster Makes This World: Mischief,Myth, and Art. New York: North