An old adage claims that laughter is the best medicine to cure human ailments. Although this treatment might sound somewhat unorthodox, its value as a remedy can be traced back to ancient times when Hypocrites, in his medical treatise, stressed the importance of “a gay and cheerful mood on the part of the physician and patient fighting disease” (Bakhtin 67). Aristotle viewed laughter as man’s quintessential privilege: “Of all living creatures only man is endowed with laughter” (Bakhtin 68). In the Middle Ages, laughter was an integral part of folk culture. “Carnival festivities and the comic spectacles and ritual connected with them had an important place in the life of medieval man” (Bakhtin 5). During the trauma and devastation of German bombing raids on London during World War II, the stubborn resilience of British humor emerged to sustain the spirit of the people and the courage of the nation. To laugh, even in the face of death, is a compelling force in the human condition. Humor, then, has a profound impact on the way human beings experience life. In Louise Erdrich’s novel Tracks, humor provides powerful medicine as the Chippewa tribe struggles for their physical, spiritual, and cultural survival at the beginning of the twentieth century.
While the ability to approach life with a sense of humor is not unique to any one society, it is an intrinsic quality of Native American life. “There is, and always has been, humor among Indians . . . ” (Lincoln 22). In deference to their history, this can best be described as survival humor, one which “transcends the void, questions fatalism, and outlasts suffering” (Lincoln 45). Through their capacity to draw common...
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...emain the contrary powers of Indian humor” (Lincoln 5). For the Chippewa, this humor provides powerful medicine for the physical, cultural, and spiritual preservation of their tribe.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984.
Erdrich Louise. Tracks. New York: Harper Collins, 1988.
Ghezzi, Ridie Wilson. “Nanabush Stories from the Ojibwe.” Coming to Light. Ed. Brian Swann. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1994.
Lincoln, Kenneth. Indi’n Humor. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.
Sergi, Jennifer. “Storytelling: Tradition and Preservation in Louise Erdrich’s Tracks.” World Literature Today 66 (Spring 1992): 279-282.
Towers, Margie. “Continuity and Connection: Characters in Louise Erdrich’s Fiction.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 16 (1992): 99-115.
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