Folklore of the United States: Wikis

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  • the carnivorous monster called a Hidebehind from American folklore cannot be accurately described because it is always hiding behind something?

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The folklore of the United States, or American folklore, is one of the folk traditions which has evolved on the North American continent since Europeans arrived in the 16th century. While it contains much in the way of Native American tradition, it should not be confused with the tribal beliefs of any community of native people. American folklore covers the same broad categories as the folklore of other nations. It encompasses myths, jokes, riddles, legends, cautionary tales, and many other forms of storytelling.

Contents

Founding myths

The founding of the United States is often surrounded by legends and tall tales. Many stories have developed since the founding long ago to become a part of America's folklore and cultural awareness, and non-native American folklore especially includes any narrative which has contributed to the shaping of American values and belief systems. These narratives may be true and may be false; the veracity of the stories is not a determining factor. Three so-called "founding myths" (or national myths) include: Christopher Columbus, the Pilgrims, and George Washington.

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Christopher Columbus

Though Christopher Columbus did not participate in the founding of the American government, he has been interpreted as a "founder" of the American nation, in that it is descended from the European immigrants who would not have moved to the New World if Columbus had not found where it was. Indeed, one particularly pervasive story is that Columbus discovered America, as it is far easier to elevate a man to heroic status than to reflect the reality among complex series of waves of immigrants from multiple conditions and walks of life.

According to some stories, Columbus began his journey across the Atlantic Ocean on Friday, August 3, 1492, in order to prove that the world was round, because he expected to reach the Far East by sailing west. In fact, it was generally accepted by Columbus' time that the world was round. What set Columbus apart was that he believed the world to be considerably smaller than most thought, small enough that a ship sailing west to the Far East could carry enough supplies for the journey.

By this legend Columbus' mission is then rendered entirely noble, intellectual and rational. He helped dispel the inaccurate beliefs of his time, and, so, it is concluded, the nation he founded must be a nation of intellect and logic. Washington Irving is the first citation for this belief. The 20th century, however, saw a decrease in the prestige of Columbus' legend as skepticism about Europeans' activities in the New World and elsewhere has become more prevalent.

Pilgrims

The holiday of Thanksgiving is said to have begun with the Pilgrims in 1621. They had come to America to escape religious persecution, but then nearly starved to death due to the unfamiliar land. Some friendly Native Americans (including Squanto) helped the Pilgrims survive through the first winter. The perseverance of the Pilgrims is celebrated during the annual Thanksgiving festival. As a legend, this story relates to the founding of the culture. The Pilgrims' dedication to their cause in spite of the hardships renders the foundation of the country, and therefore the country itself, seem stronger and more resilient. It is also a fertility festival, similar in some ways to other harvest-time celebrations in other cultures, celebrating the nourishment that comes from the earth. Although there were earlier colonies, Plymouth is one of the most famous and only the second English colony to be successful, after Jamestown in Virginia, which was settled more than 20 years earlier.

George Washington

George Washington, the country's first president, is often said to be the founder of the United States. Since his death, Washington has been "mythologized", with many anecdotes and stories about his life told, in general, to present the founder of the modern American nation as a just and wise cultural hero. For example, it is said that Washington, as a young child, chopped down his father's cherry tree. His angry father confronted the young Washington, who proclaimed "I can not tell a lie" and admitted to the transgression, thus illuminating his honesty. Parson Mason Locke Weems is the first citation of the legend, in his 1850 book, The Life of George Washington: With Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is also known to have spread the story while lecturing, personalizing it by adding "I have a higher and greater standard of principle. Washington could not lie. I can lie but I won't." Stories of national value often have similar themes – that the founder of the nation, Deucalion, George Washington, Abraham – was a wise, virtuous and brave man.

American folk figures

The following is a list of people who are either folk heroes, important figures in American folklore, or chroniclers and creators of such folklore.

Apocryphal people

Historical persons

Statesmen

Old West Figures

Frontiersmen and Explorers

Activists

Abolitionists
Civil Rights Leaders
Women's suffrage
Labor movement
Anti-war Movement
American Indian Movement
White supremacy

Military figures

Athletes

Literary Figures

Artists

Musicians

Actors and Filmmakers

Native American Figures

Aviation and space exploration

Criminals

Law officers

Religious figures

Other

Legendary and folkloric creatures

Locations and Landmarks

Cultural archetypes and icons

History

Contemporary folklore

Songs and games

See also

References

Further reading

  • Coffin, Tristam P.; Cohen, Hennig, (editors), Folklore in America; tales, songs, superstitions, proverbs, riddles, games, folk drama and folk festivals, Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1966. Selections from the Journal of American folklore.
  • Ed Cray and Marilyn Eisenberg Herzog (January 1967). "The Absurd Elephant: A Recent Riddle Fad". Western Folklore 26 (1): 27–36. doi:10.2307/1498485. —the evolution of the Elephant Riddle that entered U.S. folklore in California in 1963

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