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Jane Austen, Game Theorist$
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Michael Suk-Young Chwe

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780691162447

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691162447.001.0001

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Folktales and Civil Rights

Folktales and Civil Rights

(p.35) Chapter Three Folktales and Civil Rights
Jane Austen, Game Theorist

Michael Suk-Young Chwe

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines African American folktales that teach the importance of strategic thinking and argues that they informed the tactics of the 1960s civil rights movement. It analyzes a number of stories where characters who do not think strategically are mocked and punished by events while revered figures skillfully anticipate others' future actions. It starts with the tale of a new slave who asks his master why he does nothing while the slave has to work all the time, even as he demonstrates his own strategic understanding. It then considers the tale of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, along with “Malitis,” which tackles the problem of how the slaves could keep the meat and eat it openly. These and other folktales teach how inferiors can exploit the cluelessness of status-obsessed superiors, a strategy that can come in handy. The chapter also discusses the real-world applications of these folktales' insights.

Keywords:   cluelessness, African American folktales, strategic thinking, civil rights movement, Brer Rabbit, Tar Baby, Malitis, slaves

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