“I think what’s not talked about a lot is Paul Bunyan.” The informant grew a smile on their face. “Paul Bunyan is an American folk tale. It’s just a guy that’s really big. So it’s this really big guy and he lives in the sort of upper-Midwest of the United States– near Canada, Minnesota. That area. And he has this big blue ox named Babe that he saved from the snow of one cold winter. That’s his pet.”
They looked up in thought for a moment. “There’s not really a single tale, he just is a folk figure. He was born big and then grew up to be even bigger. Once he was an adult he became a lumberjack, so he wore plaid and looked like, you know, the basic lumberjack with an axe made for his size. And by virtue of being big, he was very good at being a lumberjack. “
People don’t think of America having folk tales like that, but we do! And Paul Bunyan is the biggest one.”
“I don’t think of Paul Bunyan a lot, and the area he exists in isn’t one I’m particularly used to. I just have an appreciation knowing that he’s a specifically American thing.”
WHERE THEY HEARD IT –
“I don’t remember specifically, but it’s a piece of Americana that you just absorb over time simply by being raised in the United States. Kind of like Uncle Sam and John Henry. It was just cultural osmosis.”
“He’s very much just representative of the lumberjacking culture. It’s an interesting folk tale because it’s something that was uniquely American. Folk tales are representative of the culture and Paul Bunyan uniquely represents individualism, the rugged American spirit, being self-made, and all ‘I pulled myself up by my boot straps.'”
I believe Paul Bunyan is very much representative of an average man with potential that’s larger than life. I think that a very important aspect of his character is the fact that, despite being so large and strong, his choice of work is very humble and is a huge part of his identity, marking its importance. It’s this aspect of him that makes him strangely relatable and human. Personally, I’m aware of Paul Bunyan’s tale being a result of fakelore– as it was created by lumberjacking companies, but the fact that my informant wasn’t aware of this, makes me think about the effectiveness of the tale. Maybe, since Paul Bunyan is representative of the American spirit, there’s something to say about the commercial value behind him.