Blog 2: Gypsy characters, complexity, authenticity, and function

For this week’s blog, choose a Gypsy character, or a character presented as a Gypsy, from film, TV, music or literature (poetry, fiction, children’s lit, etc) and discuss whether he or she is a complex, three-dimensional character. The character you choose can be a major character (Ex: Esmeralda from Victor Hugo’s or Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Roux from Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, Madam Simza from Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows) or a minor character (Ex: Mr. Radcliffe’s Gypsy disguise in Jane Eyre, one of the Gypsies from Brahm Stoker’s Dracula, The “Gypsy Uncle” from The Decemberists song “Red Right Ankle”). The important thing is that you chose a character who is interesting to you and gives you enough to talk about. 

To structure your analysis (300 + words), please answer these questions:

  • What are her defining traits or characteristics? 
  • Does she have a goal or motivation? Yearning? What is it?
  • What are her strengths? 
  • What are her weaknesses? 
  • How do these points defy or confirm Gypsy stereotypes?
  • Is she rooted in Romani culture or misconceptions about Romani culture? Does this make her more or less complex?
  • What is her function in the work?

In your assigned reading for Wednesday, “The Origin and Function of the Gypsy Image in Children’s Literature,” Ian Hancock looks at some popular Gypsy characters, many from books from his childrens’ school library, and finds by and large that “Gypsy” characters in books often bear little to no resemblance to Romani people. He calls this phenomena “the gap between romantic Romani fiction and fact-based Romani fiction. ” Does the character you’ve chosen bride that gap? If you’re not sure, do some research in your books We Are the Romani People and Roads of the Roma or online using online resources like RADOC, ROMBASE, Patrin, and Lolo Diklo Reviews, a blog run by Romani Against Racism that reviews the cultural accuracy of works about Romani people.

Food for thought:

In a feature article that appeared last year, one of the lawyers engaged by the U.S. Romani Council said that Romanies were “the last group in the United States that the press can get away with discriminating against” (Dean, 1986). The same is true in fictional literature, though as with the press, the writers involved are usually not aware that they are guilty of such discrimination. It is not that the history of the Gypsies is especially mysterious, or that sources on the population are hard to find; the works of Sutherland or Gropper are serious anthropological and sociological studies, and are readily available; the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups devotes five pages to Romani Americans. But the perceived image of the Gypsy has a number of functions in the Euro-American cultural tradition, functions which outweigh the need for a more accurate representation of Romanies and our history.

–Ian Hancock, “The Origin and Function of the Gypsy Image in Children’s Literature

What is the function of the Gypsy character you’ve chosen?


Rona Hartner as Sabine in Gadjo Dilo (The Crazy Stranger), one of my favorite Romani characters

Image Source:


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