Term of Award

Spring 2004

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (restricted to Georgia Southern)


Department of English

Committee Chair

Candy Schille

Committee Member 1

Julia Griffin

Committee Member 2

Caren J. Town


Archetypes have long been used by oral historians to help their audience connect quickly and easily to their characters. One popular archetype is the trickster figure. Most frequently connected to Native American tales in contemporary literature, the archetype can be found in the mythology and folk tales of nearly every time and culture. Trickster heroines can be found throughout fairy tales and folk tales, in the stories of girls and women who use their wits to achieve their desires or to keep themselves safe. Two areas where women excel as Tricksters are in persuasive or language tricks and in sexual tricks Sexual tricks can take a variety of forms, and include bed tricks, gender reversal, and creating confusion using sex or gender. This study focuses on trickster figures and characteristics as represented in selected works of Aphra Behn.

Perhaps the best representations of female trickster figures in early modem literature are found in the works of English playwright, novelist, and poet Aphra Behn (1640-1689). In her own life choices Behn herself stepped outside the expectations society had for a woman and took charge of her own future and happiness. Her strong, sexually aware characters represent women like herselfwho take their future into their own hands while remaining aware of the limitations faced by their gender. Her work, which seems to delight in sexuality, identifies her as one of the few lady libertines.

Trickster characteristics echo throughout Behn's work. Their dualistic nature is found in her poetry, most notably in "To the Fair Clarinda." Her female characters in The Rover represent the range ofwomen who populated the society fo the English Restoration, from noblewoman to prostitute to servant, each faced with a situation and behavior that is unexpected. Tricksters often appear masked, or altered in some way: Behn's characters often wear masks or costumes to disguise their true identity. Finally, the dualistic nature of the trickster requires that their chaos be balanced by a return to the normal order. While many of Behn's characters can be seen to exemplify change, in the end the change is rarely permanent: Behn is well aware of this reality.

Behn's heroines use subterfuge and trickery to achieve their desires. A study of Behn's work through a biographical and historical lens aids in understanding her focus, and helps to clearly identify Behn herself, as well as her characters, as trickster figures.


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