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Essay/Term paper: Child hero in world literature

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Culture

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M. Harrington 1

The image of a child hero or "trickster" is seen
in many cultures. This kind of role can tell a lot about how a culture
acts and reacts to things. The idea of the child hero in stories
written and told before the birth of Christ probably reflect the
peoples beliefs that the child is the future, and therefore carries
some sort of power or gift. For stories that were written after the
birth of Christ, the child could reflect the idea stated above, or it
could also be the peoples belief in an infant savior, that a child will
make everything right again.
Whether the story comes from before Christ or after,
the one uniform aspect about these stories is that they are present
in every culture, all around the world. The image of the "trickster"
is also very prevalent in the different cultures. It is seen in many
different fables and moral-based stories.
"You cannot go against the Philistine, you are but a
youth, and he has long been a man of war"(Metzger 145). This is
what King Saul of Israel said to David when he proposed that he
fight the Philistine warrior Goliath. The story of David and Goliath
is quite possibly one of the oldest child hero stories. It was part of
the Bible, in the Old Testament. In this story a young man named
David proposes to the king of Israel that he fight and attempt to kill
Goliath, the giant that had been plaguing Israel. The king agrees,
however hesitantly, and David goes on to slay the beast using just a
slingshot. While this story is not one that was made up, it still
M. Harrington 2

shows us that the ancient Hebrews believed in the fact that a child,
or in this case teen, has the will and motivation to do the
Staying on the eastern side of the world, we will next
see examples of Russian stories. In the former Soviet Union, a lot of
the time stories, books and other types of art were hard to come by.
"In a broader sense, though, recent years have witnessed genuine
cultural enrichment, as Gorbachevs glasnost policy permitted the
works of previously forbidden writers, artists, and
cinematographers to become accessible"(Grolier Multimedia). After
the public was able to get at the mass of stories that had been kept
from them, there was even more of an increase of books and other
forms of art. The Russian people now had much more of an
incentive to write. "In a certain village, not near, not far, not high,
not low, there lived an old couple with one little son named
Ivashko"(Wyndham 32). This is the line that begins the story of
Ivashko and the Witch. This story takes place in a small village in
Russia, and the main character is a small boy named Ivashko.
Ivashko was a very independent boy who wanted to go of on his
own and go fishing. He begged and pleaded with his parents, and
finally they gave in. His father built him a canoe and off he went.
Ivashko was doing well while he was fishing, but and one point was
lured to shore by an evil witch. The witch grabbed him and took
him to her house deep in the woods. She showed him to her
daughter and they decided that they would eat him.
M. Harrington 3

At this point the witch left to get some of her friends. Ivashko seized
this opportunity, and when the witches daughter went to sit down
on a shovel in order to demonstrate to Ivashko how to do it, he
through her into the fire. He then left and ran up a tree. The witch
found him and started gnawing at the tree. Luckily for Ivashko, a
flock of geese was flying overhead and one flew down to sweep him
up. Just as he left the tree fell over on the witch and all her evil
friends, crushing them. Ivashko lived happily ever after. This shows
that in the Russian culture there is a presence of the child hero, and
even shows the image of the trickster in the way Ivashko tricked the
witchs" daughter into showing him how to sit on a shovel. Ivashko is
a hero in this story not only because he killed the witch, but
because he rid the lake and the woods of the evil that kept most
people from going there. Although this isn"t one of the newly
released works in Russia, I think that the children"s stories,
sometimes being all that the Russian people had to read that wasn"t
corrupted by the government, made a great contribution to the
development of the Russian culture and also had a great impact on
many people.
The image of the trickster is also very prevalent in
different cultures. In the African culture the trickster comes to the
forefront in many different folk tales and fables. He is usually used
to teach a lesson or to show a moral. In most cases the trickster ends
up getting the short end of the stick, but in the story I"m going to
relate to you, Sungura and the Leopard, the trickster comes out
M. Harrington 4

on top.
In the African jungle there lived a leopard. One day
it started to rain, and fearing that he may lose his spots, the leopard
decided to build a house. A short distance away, a rabbit (Sungura)
had the same idea. Both chose the same spot to build a house. They
both then started to go and gather wood. Each was adding to the
same pile, but neither one knew that the other was also going to
build there. They just thought that their ancestors had put the extra
wood there. Leopard then went to get mud for the roof, and came
back to find the house already framed. He attributed this to his
ancestors and went on to finish the house. The two slept in the
house that night not knowing that they were together. In the
morning they found each other and agreed to build a small wall
and share the house. After a while, Rabbit started a family. The
noise got too annoying for Leopard, so he decided that he would kill
them. Rabbit overheard and decided that it was time to play a trick
on Leopard. He started having his kids cry for elephant meat.
Leopard overheard this and got scared. He figured " if he can kill an
elephant then he can kill me". So he left. He then saw a baboon,
and was called foolish for believing the rabbit. Then he went back.
He then overheard Rabbit say "I can"t believe that leopard listened
to the baboon! What a fool!" (Knuston 19). Rabbit then had his
children cry for Leopard meat, and when Leopard heard Rabbit say
that he would go out and hunt some, he left for good. Rabbit now
had the house all to himself.
M. Harrington 5

This is a tale that came out of the Ashanti tribe,
and the point of it was to say that even if you are small, if you use
your brain then you can prevail. "Ashanti artistic creations include
a wealth of myths and tales..." (Miller 2). Tales such as this one are
seen throughout the African tribes, and the trickster is usually the
one who prevails. The Ashanti, as well as the other tribal Africans,
believed that it was more important to use ones mind and to be able
to think quick than to just rely on brute strength all of the time.
Using the image of the trickster also served as an educational tool. It
displayed to the young children that they can get out of a conflict
without fighting. It also taught them that pride was bad, because
Leopard only wanted the house so that he wouldn"t lose his spots,
and Rabbit, the winner, only wanted the house so he could raise a
European culture also has its fair share of trickster
tales in Aesops Fables. In these stories, which were said to have been
written by a Greek man named Aesop some time in the sixth
century BC, there is always a moral for an ending. While Aesops
Fables is more of a collection of stories from different, unknown
authors, Aesop gets the credit for it.
The most commonly used "trickster" in the
fables is the wolf. He is shown to be very sneaky and mean, but also
very smart. In many of the tales he is successful as the trickster, and
his main objective is usually to eat some sort of defenseless
M. Harrington 6

One example of the wolf as a trickster is the story of the
"Wolf and the Crane". In this story, the wolf has a bone stuck in his
throat and asks a crane to use its long neck to pull it out. The wolf
offers a reward, so the crane reluctantly accepts. After the bone is
out the crane asks for her reward, and gets this reply, " You can go
about boasting that you once put your head into a Wolf"s mouth
and didn"t get it bitten off. What more do you want?" (Santore 3).
this showed the cunningness of the wolf whereas he got the service
that he needed for nothing in return. One fable where the trickster
didn"t come out on top was in the fable entitled " The donkey in the
Lion"s Skin". In this case the trickster was a donkey. He found a lion
skin, dressed himself in it, and then went around scaring friends.
When he neighed in happiness at his triumph, the fox heard him,
and exposed him for what he was. Here the fable taught the moral
that if one is to be a trickster, then make sure you are very careful
about it.
Probably the most famous tricksters and child
heroes ever to be introduced to the world were Tom Sawyer and
Huck Finn. These two boys, created by Mark Twain, spent their
entire lives tricking people for different reasons and also becoming
heroes by getting themselves into many interesting adventures. In
the book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer the two boys end up
capturing a criminal and bringing him to justice before the whole
town. Another example of Tom Sawyer"s heroics was when he and
a girl were trapped in a cave, and when she passed out from
M. Harrington 7

exhaustion he took it upon himself to get her water and keep her
alive. In the end they were rescued from the cave and Tom was
given accolades as a hero.
The American culture is very receptive of the child
hero. In recent movies such as Home Alone, the child is glorified
and given the role of the hero. In America, where there is not very
much that remains to be innocent, the image of the child hero is

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