Beware of the Trickster: The Archetype of Deception
5 April 2020
Before the Europeans fell on the soil now known as the United States, massive groups of native people dwelled on the land. These people are known now as the Native Americans. Native Americans come from different tribes with varying backgrounds. Each tribe has a name, but many names changed when the Europeans came up with simpler ways to describe them. The Winnebago Tribe, for instance, was the English name for the group, derived from “the Algonquian people’s name for the tribe, ‘people of the dirty water’” (Levine, 44). One art all Native Americans are known for is their oral literature. From their oral literature came distinct yet frequent trickster archetypes. In Paul Radin’s book The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology, the anthropologist and folklorist analyzes many Native American oral literature tales that show prominent trickster archetypes. The Winnebago Trickster Cycle is one of many that demonstrate the presence of the Trickster. This archetype is so strangely common in other works around the world that Psychologist Carl Jung did a study on it in the book The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. In the modern day, these same archetypes appear in other American works, especially in film, books, and television. Among these, Tim Burton’s adaptation of Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a strong representative of the Trickster archetype.
Like several other trickster tales, the Winnebago Trickster Cycle notably exemplifies the archetype of the trickster. That is, the character who “plays the fool with the greatest vigor” (Levine, 44). The “Trickster and the Talking Bulb” is no exception to the famous stories of nature and tricksters. In this tale, the Trickster hears a talking bulb in a bush. The bulb is declaring that anyone who chews him will defecate (Radin, 44). The Trickster hears this while strolling by and is skeptical about the bulb’s honesty. Prideful and curious, he eats the bulb whole. It is not long before the Trickster begins to feel its effects. While passing intense gas because of the Bulb’s side effects, the Trickster fools a group of innocent people into escaping their homes and riding on his back. This action makes him feel better. But it is not long before he is met with even worse side effects. The Trickster almost dies from defecating so much, and his only hope was the trees that directed him to a source of water (Radin, 46). In the end, this Trickster’s folly gets the best of him.
The “Trickster and the Talking Bulb” is a narrative that revolves around morality. The main character’s foolishness is depicted when he thoughtlessly chews on the talking bulb who made it obvious that sickness would come if it was eaten. The Trickster spent the rest of the tale having to correct his blunder. As the introduction to the story explains, “to recover from those consequences once his efforts fail propel the narrative” (Levine, 44). Because this story demonstrates a moral, it is believed that it could have been told for children. After all, children are at a stage of life in which learning what is right and wrong is crucial to how they will treat others for the rest of their lives. The way the story is spoken, meaning the overall personality of the Trickster and the fact that he learns his lesson over passing gas, would be considered entertaining to children especially. Its themes are memorable and have the ability to be spoken across generations. This is what made the Winnebago Trickster Cycle, as well as other Trickster tales of the American Indians, to become such an important factor in American society. Its entertainment as well as moral aspects weave their way through generations of families and storytellers.
The archetype of the Trickster has boggled the minds of many scientists as well as writers. It is evident these Native American Trickster tales have influenced modern culture, so much so that psychologist Carl Jung studied the archetype of the Trickster. He wrote his findings down, which can now be found in his book The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Carl Jung was a psychologist who believed that “beneath the surface of modern consciousness, the mythic forms of antiquity continued to have a subterranean existence.” Jung believed these forms appeared in dreams, visions, and fantasies. He eventually dubbed them as “archetypes” in 1919 (Jung, viii). This psychologist’s studies have reflected the archetypes in every fictional tale. In the modern day, we study these archetypes thoroughly. Jung has helped Americans identify the Trickster archetype in shows, books, and movies. In his work, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, he notes how Native American Tricksters share the same qualities of the devil in most European tales (Jung, 155). In modern day America, the Trickster is still very much alive.
Based off of Carl Jung’s discovery, the Native American Trickster can still be identified in many modern American works. As Carl Jung believed that all characters sprang from inner psychological occurrences, there is no doubt the Native Americans’ Trickster archetype appears in modern American culture (Jung, 136). One of the most popular American characters that demonstrates a trickster attitude is Willy Wonka from Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Ronald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Anyone who watches this tale will understand that Willy Wonka is a Trickster masked by a friendly and lovable candy genius. Many of Tim Burton’s films exude the Trickster as someone who is a “metonymic representative of the creative impulse” (Bassil-Morozow, 36). Willy Wonka is a genius idolized by children and adults around the world in the film. No one has ever seen his face. When twelve lucky individuals meet him, they are surprised to find an eccentric young man as the genius behind the chocolate factory. As soon as the winners step foot into the factory, they are victim to Wonka’s deception. This is noted in the first scene when Wonka’s dancing animatronics burn and melt into horrifying wax robots. Throughout Wonka’s tour, the chocolate master plays tricks on the children in order to test their maturity and wisdom. Several instances happen where Wonka warns the children of consequences. For example, Augustus Gloop falls into the river of chocolate, despite Wonka’s warning of its danger (Burton, 2011). What the characters are not aware of is Wonka’s true motive, which is to test to see who would become the next owner of the chocolate factory. In a way, Wonka is a mentor as well as a trickster. His personality proves he does not listen to social norms, opinions, or beliefs. He simply performs on his own accord. Willy Wonka’s trickery can be compared to the Winnebago Trickster in this way. Not only did the Winnebago Trickster act on his own accord despite the consequences, he also played tricks on innocent people. Wonka fooled the other children into doing foolish acts, not paying attention to their safety or health. In the same way, the Winnebago Trickster did not look at the consequences of his actions. In both tales, the subjects being tricked had no idea they were falling into the plots of the Trickster.
Willy Wonka’s portrayal in Tim Burton’s stunning film is not the only demonstration of the modern-day Trickster. In America, there are hundreds of stories that carry on the Native American Trickster’s way. American Indian oral literature has shaped literary society in America. Writers like Paul Radin were so inspired by the words of the Natives that they studied them and wrote them down to the best of their ability; the Trickster is so prominent in the world that psychologist Carl Jung made note of the American Indians’ tale in his works. The Trickster is a character who has become vital to the plots of many stories, lessons, and even real-life occurrences. It is all thanks to the Native Americans who kept the oral tradition of storytelling alive.
Bassil-Morozow, Helena. The Trickster in Contemporary Film. Routledge, 2013, https://search-proquest-com.proxy094.nclive.org/docview/919036553?pq-origsite=summon.
Burton, Tim. “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.” Youtube, 13 Apr. 2005, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCJ7uJFVxjc.
Jung, C. G.. Four Archetypes : (From Vol. 9, Part 1 of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung), Princeton University Press, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/johnstoncc-ebooks/detail.action?docID=832709.
Levine, Robert, editor. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Volume A. W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.
Radin, Paul. The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology. Edited by Robert Levine, W.W. Norton & Co., 2017.