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Structural Typology in North American Indian Folktales Author(s): Alan Dundes Source: Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol.

19, No. 1 (Spring, 1963), pp. 121-130 Published by: University of New Mexico Stable URL: Accessed: 20/09/2009 19:02
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CAN BE no rigorous typology without prior morphology.In the case of North American Indian folktales, the lack of morphologicalunits and analyses has precludedtypologicalstatements.The extent of the morphological void is illustratedby the fact that the casualisttheory of AmericanIndian folktale compositionis still widely held. According to this view, American Indian of folktales are composedof randomunstableconglomerates motifs. In 1894, the folklorist Joseph Jacobs, in discussingprimitivefolktales generally, reEnglish marked (1894:137), "Those who have read these tales will agreewith me, I think, that they are formless and void, and bear the same relation to good European do fairy tales as the invertebrates to the vertebrate kingdomin the animalworld." In 1916, Franz Boas made a similarstatement (1916:878): "Europeanfolk-lore creates the impressionthat the whole stories are units and that their cohesionis strong,the wholecomplexveryold. The analysisof Americanmaterial,on the other that hand,demonstrates complexstoriesarenew, that thereis little cohesionbetween the componentelements,and that the really old parts of tales are the incidents and a few simple plots." Recently,Melville Jacobs (1959:127) critizedBoas for not carryingover a structuralapproach,which he used successfullyin the study of language and plastic-graphic to the field of folklore. art, It is true that while the structuralor patternapproachwas sweepingthrough and anthropologyproper in the 1920's linguistics,psychology,ethnomusicology, and 30's folklore as a discipline remainedoriented to a narrowlyhistorical approach and dedicated to atomistic studies. In 1934, there appearedBenedict's Patternsof Culture;in 1933 Helen Robertspublished"The Pattern Phenomenon in PrimitiveMusic,"as well as her study Form in PrimitiveMusic. In linguistics, Sapir's Language (1921) and "Sound Patterns in Language," (1925) were followedby Bloomfield's Language (1933) and Swadesh's"The PhonemicPrinciple," Kohler's Gestalt Psychology (1929) and Koffa's Principles of Gestalt (1934). Psychology (1935) reflectedthe same theoreticalmovementin psychology.In the thirties,the searchfor patternswas itself a patternof culture.However,in the field The no of folklore,therewas apparently interestin a holisticsynchronic approach. of folklore scholarshipof the middle thirtieswas Stith Thompson's major piece mammothMotif-Index of Folk Literature,lexicon par excellence,epitomeof the atomistic emphasis in folklore. The culture lag in folklore theory has unforTHERE

121 VOL.19, 1963



since increased the thirties thisis onereason therehavebeenso and tunately why fewnotable theoretical in advances folklore. One of the few exceptions Vladimir is of Morphology the Folktale Propp's in of "thedescription the published 1928.By morphology Propp(1958:18)meant to eachother to thewhole." a and and afterdefining isolating morphological Propp, unitwhichhe termed one to "function," proceeded analyze morphologically hundredconsecutive of a Afanasiev mirchen, random corpus tales,fromthecelebrated collections Russian of that In folktales. analyzing functions, is, the unitsof the of that tales,Proppdiscovered therewasa structure, thesehundred plotnarrative of of limitednumber functions, and thirty-one, that the sequence these namely functions fixed. was functions necesThisdidnot meanthatall thirty-one possible in occurred anyonegivenfolktale, rather thosewhich occur that did did but sarily so in a predictable was ableto his order.Havingcompleted morphology, Propp to proceed typology,and he concluded(1958:21) that all Russian fairytales, on morphological to one and the samestructural grounds, belonged type. In applying framework American to Indianfolktales, Propp's morphological I haveadopted someof the terminology theoryof Kenneth Pike, as exL. and in the latter's in Relation a UnifiedTheory the Structure to pressed of Language becomes a motifeme thus function of HumanBehavior (Dundes1962a).Propp's which Folktales the notions motifandallomotif. of instead, may permits associated thusbe defined sequences motifemes. motifemic maybe filledwith as of The slots various slot motifsandthespecific motifsforanygivenmotifemic may alternative be labelled structural With the aid of this combined allomotifs. Proppian/Pike in a of structural model,I was ableto discern number clear-cut patterns North American Indianfolktales. A largenumber American of Indian folktales consist a movefromdisequiliof brium equilibrium. to a stateto be feared avoided possible, and if Disequilibrium, or maybeseenas a stateof surplus of lack,depending thepointof view.The upon that is disequilibrium be indicated a statement there toomuchof onething may by ortoolittleof another. the hoarded In suchobjects game, as objecttales,in which fish,food-plants, water, sun, tides,seasons, light,fire,andso fortharenotavailable to the majority mankind to mostof the members a tribe,thereis very of or of often an initialstatement the socially universally lack.An initialstate of or felt of floodmaybe interpreted either muchwateror too littleland,butin any as too state of disequilibrium, whichI will call "lack." case,thereis the undesirable can how abundance lost or howa lack Folktales consistsimplyof relating was wasliquidated. otherwords, In in lost something excess maybe lost or something
folktale accordingto its component of partsand the relationship these components



of fall or stolenmaybe found.Bothof thesesituations underthe rubric moving fromdisequilibrium equilibrium. to Indianfolktalethen consistsof just two One structural type of American Lack (L) and LackLiquidated motifemes: (LL). In the Maleciteversionof of "TheRelease Impounded Water,"a monster keepsbackall the waterin the water (LL). A whichact releases heroslaysthe monster, world (L). A culture is as follows:"A people Wishram baseduponthe samemotifeme tale pattern the on the Columbia no eyesor mouths(L). They ate by smelling sturgeon. had theireyesandmouths(LL)."In an unpublished UpperChehalis Coyoteopened tale: "Onceupona timethe worldstartedgoingto pieces.A mintwith lots of There It runners to decided sew it backtogether. did so, andsavedthe world." are but of consist onlytwomotifemes, there some. arenota greatmany taleswhich of definition a The two motifeme sequence be said to constitute minimum may an American Indianfolktale. is A muchmorecommon motifeme sequence one with the followingfour from and motifemes: Violation, Interdiction, Escape Consequence, an Attempted and theConsequence Int, Escape (abbreviated Viol,Conseq, AE). The Attempted structural A talemayendwiththe Conslot. thanobligatory is an optional rather the if Furthermore, thereis an attempted maybe sucescape, attempt sequence. of The cessfulorit maybe unsuccessful. presence the fourth motifeme, Attempted within informant cultureor particular may dependuponthe particular Escape, of or the thatculture. upon may Similarly success failure the attempt alsodepend thesefactors. the of Noticethe A few examples illustrate nature this folktalepattern. may within identical the structural of content form.In a Swampy Creetale,a diversity whenit is nearthe water little boy is told by his sisternot to shootat a squirrel he at near The boyshoots a squirrel water(Viol) andwhen seeksto retrieve (Int). his arrowwhichhad fallen in the water,he is swallowed a fish (Conseq). by who to the Eventually, fishis directed swimto thesister, cutsopenthe fish,thereby someboysout her tale,andold manwarns releasing brother(AE). In a Lillooet not to mockingly for a whaleto come (Int). The boys laugh and call fishing them (Conseq). a continue calling (Viol) whereupon whalecomesandswallows the beachwhere peoplecut it open,permitting to The whaleis directed a certain tale the boysto escape (AE). In an Onondaga with parallels amongEskimo, is to a groupof children warned stop dancing Plainsand Woodlands peoples, to refuse (Viol) and are translated the heavens(Conseq) (Int). The children motifis of The the where become Pleiades. ending a talewithan explanatory they motifis not structurally The explanatory Indianfolktales. common American in



obligatory; it functions rather as a stylistic terminal marker or literary coda. is Sometimesthe interdiction implicitratherthan explicit.In "The Rolling Rock," tricksteroffends a rock by taking back a present (e.g., a robe) which he has given it, or by defecatingon the rock (Viol). The rockrolls after himin previously pursuit (Conseq). The protagonistusually escapesthrough the helpful intervention of friendlyanimalswho destroythe rock (AE). In a Tlingit tale, some boys pull a piece of drifting seaweedout of the water on one side of their canoe and put it in again on the other (Viol). Permanentwinter results (Conseq). In a is Kathlametcognate,the interdiction explicit.The peopleof a town are forbidden to play with their excrements(Int). A bad boy does play with his (Viol) and the and people start to die next night snow begins to fall. Winter comespermanently of hunger (Conseq). The people escape these consequences leaving the bad by boy to die on the ice (AE). There is great varietyof content in these tales; that is, therearea greatnumberof allomotifs.This is whathas led someanthropologists to believethat AmericanIndian folktales lacked cohesion.However,the sequence of motifemesis exactly the same in these tales. Motifemicallyspeaking,there is elements,contraryto what Boas thought. greatcohesionbetweenthe component of AmericanIndian folktalesmay be composed combinations shorter of Longer consistsof Lack,Liquidamotifemepatterns.A commonsix motifemecombination tion of Lack, Interdiction,Violation, Consequence,and Attempted Escape. In Orpheus,a man loses his wife (L), but regainsher or can regainher (LL) if he does not violate a taboo (Int). Inevitablythe man breaksthe taboo (Viol) and loses his wife once again (Conseq). As an illustrationof how diversecontent can with occurwithin a commonstructuralframe, the Orpheustale may be compared the Zuni tale of "The Little Girl and the Cricket."A girl discoversa singing cricketand wantsto take it home (L). The cricketgoes homewith her (LL), but warnsher that she mustnot touch or tickle him (Int). The girl in playingwith the cricket tickles him (Viol) and the cricket burstshis stomachand dies (Conseq). In tabularform, the two tales are as follows: Motifemes Lack LackLiquidated Interdiction Orpheus Manwantsto bringwife homefromthedead Mandoesso Manis warned to not lookbackat wife GirlandCricket Girlwantsto bring cricket homefromfields Girldoesso not Girlis warned to touchcricket

IN TYPOLOGY FOLKLORE STRUCTURAL Violation Consequence Attempted Escape Man looksback Man'swife dies cricket Girltouches dies Cricket


It should be noted that the consequence may be a form of lack, as it is in the tale, for example.This suggests that in folktales wherethere is no initial Orpheus lack given, there may occur a sequence of motifemes causing a state of lack. the Usually the lack is the resultof someunwiseactionor morespecifically resultof the Thus in someversionsof earthdiver, lack is stated a violationof an interdiction. initially: "Once there was no earth. Water was where the earth is now." On the otherhand,the floodmaybe caused,as in the Upper Chehalisaccount,by foolishly flauntinga taboo. In the latter account Thrush is not allowed to wash his dirty face (Int), but he is induced to do so (Viol). After Thrush washes his face, it begins to rain heavilyuntil the waterrises and coverseverything (Conseq). Then Muskrat dives four times for the necessarydirt in the usual earthdiversequence (AE) . It is importantto realize that these structuralmotifemic alternativesare not limited to any one historicaltale; these alternativesmay be found in many tales. In the widespread tale of Eye-Juggler,the trickstermay simply lose his eyes (L) and regain them (LL). However, in many Plains versions, the two motifeme sequenceis expanded.Tricksterwishes to be able to imitate a man who is able to throwhis eyes into the air and replacethem (L). Tricksteris given the power (LL), but he is warnedthat his eyes may only be thrownfour timesor that they may not be thrown too high or near trees (Int). Trickster disobeys (Viol) and loses his eyes (Conseq). On the basis of structuralanalysis, one might say that in any tale which begins with an initial lack, it is theoreticallypossible for that tale to whoseviolationcausesthe lack. If this is so, thena knowlbeginwith an interdiction use structural of the alternative patternsmight be of considerable in construcedge and evaluatinghistorical-geographical hypothesesconcerningindividualfolkting tales. What folkloristshave previouslyconsideredto be sub-typesof a particular tale may be manifestationsof much more general structuralpattern alternation. While it is clear that AmericanIndian folktales are definitelystructuredinasmuchas they are composedof specificstatablesequencesof motifemes,it must be understoodthat all the existing motifeme patterns are not discussedabove. Another commonpattern, for example,consistsof Lack, Deceit, Deception, and Lack Liquidated (Dundes 1962b:131-136). Yet these few illustrativepatterns should be sufficientto support the thesis that American Indian folktales are



is structured. structural But mightbe analysis notanendin itselfandthequestion of raised: whatis the significance use of the structural and analyses folktales? in observed comAs statements bemade. Roman can First, Jakobson typological Indianlanguages, to uponthe Boasian menting approach the studyof American structural similarities shouldbe pointedout. He noted, "Certain grammatical lexical without distribution corresponding phonemic typeshavea widecontinuous similarities" Voegelinand Harris (1947:596)have (Jakobson 1939:192-193). comthat "Structural madesimilarstatements. They have said, for example, of of relationships." independently theirgenetic parability languages bestated may a structural Just as Van Gennepnoted that a common patterncharacterized of that is, that the sequential of ritesof vastlydifferent content, pattern variety could be found in rites dealingwith and transition, incorporation separation, in structural birth,puberty, death,and so forth,so common patterns marriage, of delineated. folktales quitediverse content be clearly may A second from is benefit accruing structural analysis a newtechnique significant of gaining of withintranscultural into the cultural determination content insight in If forms. a folklorist structure alignsall thetaleswiththesame reported a given themmotifeme motifeme, maytheneasily whether he note thatis, aligns culture, by or not a specific motifeme manifested a particular is after motif.Forexample, by of a number Cheyenne talesbaseduponthe Interdiction/Violation aligning patthat the forbadethe use of a special tern,I discovered invariably interdiction In of thanfourtimes. somecases, content thetalewasconsiderably the more power for motif to informants makeit possible this particular to altered Cheyenne by In version "Rolling of onedoesnotfindtheusualoffense occur. a Cheyenne Rock," stonesto turnover to the rock.Instead, trickster a manwho can command sees themandhe desires power(L). He is giventhepower(LL) this without touching thanfour times (Int). He losescount,uses on condition he use it no mores that the powerfor a fifth time (Viol) andthe stonepursues (Conseq). nighthim A hawksavestrickster breaking stoneintopieces(AE). Similarly, an unthe in by is usualversion "Bungling of flesh Host,"trickster giventhe powerof scraping fromhis backfor food provided he doesnot repeatthe process that morethan for fourtimes. cultural The thanfourtimes" motifmight prediction the"notmore of havebeennoticedfromthe reading one tale,but thenagainit mightnot have to been.It is no longer so an One necessary employ subjective empirical approach. all needonlyalign,or superimpose, the talesin a culture basedupona particular motifeme patternand then sight downthe variousmotifs fillinga particular slot. motifemic of Another benefit structural lies in analysis in the areaof prediction an accul-



turation folktalesand the situation.If one knowsthe structure European of structure American of withreasonable Indianfolktales, canpredict one certainty whatchanges occur will tale Indian whena European is borrowed an American by Forexample, Zuniversion Aare-Thompson type 121,"Wolves tale the of group. Climb Top of OneAnother Tree," instructive. theEuropean some on In is to tale, wolves in resort climbing topof oneanother capture to on to someone a tree.When the lowestwolf runsaway,the othersall fall. In the Zuni version this tale, of wantsto climbup a cliff to get somecorn (L). Coyotegathers together Coyote on the his fellowcoyotes the groupdecides ascend cliff by holding to one and to in tail another's or by holdingon to corncobsinserted theiranuses(LL). The the are all warned to breakwind (Int). However, last coyotedoes not coyotes so (Viol), causingthe wholechainto tumbledown.All the coyotesare killed (Conseq). Whereas folklorists werecontent to tales formerly merely identifyEuropean the North American it is now possibleto show exactlyhow Indians, among tales American Indianfolktale European havebeencastin themoldof traditional in It motifeme patterns, this case,that of the Interdiction/Violation sequence. is to differences between interesting note that one of the most strikingsructural Indian folktalesconcerns numberof motifemes the and American European such between pairof related a motifemes, asLackandLackLiquidated. intervening of of motifemes be considered an indication what as The number intervening may taleshavefar American Indian the of maybetermed "motifemic depth" folktales. In function lessmotifemic folktales. the latter,Lack (Propp depththanEuropean in whereas 8a) and LackLiquidated (Proppfunction19) are widelyseparated that It Indian talesa lackis liquidated afterit is stated. is possible soon American in the lessermotifemic Indiantalesmayaccount partfor the depthof American cumulative folktalesamongthe American absence eithernativeor borrowed of as tales of inasmuch cumulative oftenconsist an extensive interconnected Indians, of within frame an initiallackandfinalliquidathe series lacksto be liquidated of tion of that lack.Suchhypotheses tales of a given mightbe testedby planting in a culture re-eliciting and themaftera givenperiodof time. structural pattern of the lies analysis in the unPerhaps mostexcitingcontribution structural havefolklorists to area charted of cross-genre comparison. Rarely attempted comIn of folklore. fact, on the contrary, respect the with the different to pare genres there an attempt of folktaleandsuperstition, hasbeenwithinrecent genres years of and to divide fieldof folklore the studyintothetwodivisions folkliterature folk this "dualmandate" he termsit for as custom.Herskovits, instance, accepts statement in that (1953:285)maintains (1946:93)and Bascom an unequivocal



folklore to the anthropologist includesmyths and tales but does not include folk customor folk belief. Yet, morphological analysisof the two genresrevealsthat a commonstructural pattern may underlie both. In a recently published structural study (Dundes 1961:28), I proposedthe following tentative generic definition of superstition: are "Superstitions traditionalexpressionsof one or more conditionsand one or moreresultswith someof the conditionssigns and otherscauses."The formulafor may be stated simplyas "If A, then B," with an optional"unlessC." superstitions In a categoryof superstitions which I have termed"Magic,"fulfillmentof one or more conditionscauses one or more results.The Chippewabelieve, for example, that throwingdogs or cats into a lake will causea storm.However,in "Conversion" superstitions,an undesirableresult may be neutralizedor even reversedso that a desirableresultensues.Thus in magicsuperstitions, thereis a conditionalaction, which if fulfilled leads to a result. But there may be an accompanying conversion as a counteractant,permitsan individualto avoid superstitionwhich, employed or nullify the undesirableresult of the magic superstition.Perhaps now the parallel between the structureof the Interdiction/Violationmotifeme sequence in folktales and the structureof superstition may be seen. Considerthe following Zuni folktaleand superstition:

A girlis warned to not huntrabbits Viol: Shedoes Conseq:A cannibalistic monster appears AE: The twinAhaiyute save thegirl




If a woman thewafer eats breadfromthedeerhunt

shewillhavetwins Result: unlessthebread is Counteractant: around rungof the passed herhouseladder fourtimes

One must not be deceivedby the apparentlack of an analogueto the Violation it motifeme.In superstitions, is alwaysassumedthat the conditionwill be fulfilled, or in other words,that the interdictionwill be violated. It thus appearsthat it is Moreover,it would be interesting possibleto comparefolktales and superstitions. betweenthe forms of folktales to knowwhetherthereis any significantcorrelation of and superstitions the same culture, especiallywith respectto the more or less optional Attempted Escape motifeme and the counteractant portion of superstitions.One wouldthink that in cultureswheretherewasa greatpreponderance atof in of temptedescapesfrom the consequences violatinginterdictions folktales,there



wouldbe an analogoushigh incidenceof counteractants conversion or superstitions. It should also be noted that this structuralpattern may be found in other folkloristicgenres.For example,in games, there are inevitablyrules. If the rules are broken (and breakingthe rulesmay be part of the game), theremay be a penalty. Then dependingupon the particulargame or the particularversionof the game, there may or may not be a meansof nullifying or escapingthe penalty. The importance of structural analysis should be obvious. Morphological analysisof AmericanIndian folktales makesit possiblefor typologicaldescriptive statementsto be made. Such statements,in turn, make it posible for folkloriststo examinethe cultural determination content, to predict culture change, and to of attempt cross-genre comparison.It is to be hoped that structuralanalysesof the folkloreof othergeographical areas,e.g., Africa, will revealwhetheror not certain structural patternsareuniversal.

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