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Social criticism in traditional legends: Supernatural women in Chinese {\it zhiguai\/} and German {\it Sagen\/}

Jennifer Lynn Fyler, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The literary image of the dangerously powerful woman indicates conflict around women's roles in the cultural milieu that gave rise to the text. This interaction between social reality and literary text is most apparent in a culture's legends. Legends may be briefly defined as narratives describing the unordinary to which the audience and/or the teller ascribe the status of reality or at least, plausibility. Underlying the analysis of society-text interaction are two assumptions: (1) the tales regarded by a community as true must at least overtly support the dominant values of that community, and (2) recurring legends point out central concerns of that community. Drawing from Chinese zhiguai (XXXl) collected in the third to sixth centuries and from Sagen compilations made by nineteenth century German folklorists, I argue for the similar function of these texts in the cultural contexts that produced them. There is no question of mutual influence between these two disparate cultural and historical settings. Instead I argue that, cross-culturally, legends featuring female demons and women with supernatural powers indicate conflict around women's roles in family and society. Furthermore, in a given cultural context, the particular characteristics of the supernatural woman in legend provide a mirror for the specific hardships faced and the compensating strategies exercised by women in that cultural system. ^

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Asian literature|German literature|Folklore

Recommended Citation

Fyler, Jennifer Lynn, "Social criticism in traditional legends: Supernatural women in Chinese {\it zhiguai\/} and German {\it Sagen\/}" (1993). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9329608.