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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections

[Detail] Fishermen. Key West, Florida


Folktales are stories passed from generation to generation in a particular culture. Folktales are traditionally passed along through oral storytelling, although this may be less true today than in the past. Characters in many folktales seem to represent stereotypes. The following are three types of folktales:

  • Animal stories. In these stories, the animals talk and act as humans do. Animal stories may explain a natural phenomenon or teach a lesson.
  • Humorous tales. These stories are often nonsense stories about silly characters who make funny mistakes.
  • Magic tales. Magic tales, often called fairy tales, feature spells and enchantments. Some magic tales are romances, in which lovers are separated by spells until courage and/or magic reunite them.

Folktales often begin with such standard phrases as "Once upon a time." The pace of the story is usually quick—most folktales are relatively brief. In the end, the story is wrapped up neatly. It may end with a phrase like "and they lived happily ever after."

A number of folktales can be found in the Florida Folklife collection. For example, "La mata de higo" (The Fig Tree) is a Cuban folktale described in English and then told and sung in Spanish, by a 13-year-old resident of Ybor City. There is also a transcription in English of the general story line.

  • Which of the above types of folktales is "La mata de higo"? Explain your answer.
  • Which of the characters are stereotypes? What words or phrases convey the stereotype?
  • In your opinion, what makes this story enjoyable? Why do you think it was passed down from generation to generation among Cuban Floridians?

If you understand Spanish, listen to "La mata persima en el cemeteria" (The Persimmon Tree in the Cemetery), another story from Ybor City, told in Spanish by an 11-year-old. Use the questions above to analyze this story.