The People Could Fly Critical Essays

Virginia Hamilton


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Folklore is said to provide insights into the collective experiences, aspirations, and values of a cultural group. Hamilton provides readers with a looking glass through which to view some of the common experiences from the early heritage of the people who are now known as African Americans. One such experience is demonstrated in the manner in which black folklore uses animal heros to portray both the oppressed slaves and their masters. The ubiquitous “Bruh Rabbit,” small and weak but clever, plots, schemes, plays tricks, and uses humor to outdo his larger and stronger rivals, often “Bruh Bear” and “Bruh Fox.” The rabbit almost always eventually overcomes adversity and escapes his predicament. It is said that the black slaves told stories of this type because they dared not to portray themselves and their masters in stories directly but rather had to rely on subtlety and personification. “Doc Rabbit, Bruh Fox, and Tar Baby” is one tale in which the trickster resorts to cunningness and subtlety in order to achieve happiness and freedom from persecution. Doc Rabbit uses his cleverness to get himself out of a predicament: He tricks Bruh Fox into throwing him into the briar patch, which looks dangerous but is his natural home, and thereby avoids a more grisly fate.

The aspirations of the slaves, as portrayed in this collection, were centered on freedom and a better life. Using one’s wits to outsmart the powerful and thereby win riches and a...

(The entire section is 563 words.)