Trickster novels, especially those by Gerald Vizenor and Maxine Hong Kingston, can be used to destabilize and undermine ethnic stereotypes. As many studies show, the trickster him/herself cannot be stable and thus resists the limitations of definition as the embodiment of ambiguity. Both insider and outsider, s/he plays with the whole concept of “sides” so as to erase the distinction between them. The trickster plays the game, including the game of language, in order to break and exploit its rules and thus destabilizes linguistic markers. Kingston and Vizenor use their novels to subvert the rules of the linguistic game and free perception from stereotypic rigidity. Perceptions of race and ethnicity are frequently codified in the form of stereotypes with which we are all familiar. Once established, they, of course, prove remarkably difficult to dismantle however false or misleading they might be with regard to the race or ethnicity in question; and thus they continue to exacerbate the social tensions with which we are equally familiar. Ethnic American literature has frequently addressed this issue; in this essay I intend to look at one narrative strategy which is specifically designed to question, challenge, exploit, and even manipulate perception.

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