Myths, Legends and Folktales

This paper explores whether myths, legends and folktales are a window into society.

This paper discusses how anthropologists view myths, legends and folktales, and how they use their findings to determine aspects about society. The paper draws on some examples of immigrant and working-class folklore in the United States as examples of a subculture in relation to the dominant culture, or as an alternative culture which also appears in response to the dominant culture. The paper uses cases of immigrant behaviours and folklore, as well as examples of worker-culture and worker-folklore as it manifests itself in the workplace and in the culture of reading tabloid newspapers. This paper presents the claim that these non-mainstream examples of ‘folklore’ have been used by anthropologists to analyze the values and behaviours of non-mainstream groups.
“Flemming Hemmersam is a Danish folklorist who has developed the idea that working-class culture should be examined on three levels: from the perspective of the labour movement leaders; from the view of labour movement members; and from the point of view of the daily lives of workers themselves (Hemmersam 1989, pp. 91-96). He argues that these divisions are mutually interactive. An earlier variation on this theme was developed by another scholar, Carlo Ginzburg, who wrote a now famous book in 1980 called The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. He argued that there was a clear relationship between literature culture and folk culture, which he said was a division between the dominant culture and a subordinate culture. This idea is very important in the course of this essay, which in the next section, tries to shed light on some aspects of two kinds of subcultures, the working-class and immigrant culture. Ginzburg says that the dominant or literate culture is what shapes the general culture within the world of high culture (Ginzburg 1980, pp.50-51, 186-187).”