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  • 7/20/2005

Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings


Joel Chandler Harris

Uncle Remus was the title and fictional narrator of a collection of stories byJoel Chandler Harris, published in book form from 1881; seven Uncle Remus books were published. Harris was a journalist in post-reconstruction Atlanta, Georgia.

Uncle Remus is a collection of animal stories, songs, and oral folklore, collected fromSouthern blacks. Many of the stories have amoral or advisory point, much like those of Aesop and La Fontaine. Uncle Remus is the purported narrator, and the setting is that ofan old Negro slave telling folk tales to white children. The stories are told in a literary version of an essentializedDeep South Negro dialect. The style of story is the trickster tale and may well have roots in West Africa. The title "Uncle" is given by the plantation children to their favorite slave/mentor. At the time of Harris's publication, his work was praised for its ability to capture plantation negro dialect.

Brer Rabbit ("brother rabbit") is the main character of the stories, a likable trickster getting into trouble who is often opposed by Brer Fox and Brer Bear.

The stories were the subject of a Walt Disney movie in 1946, Song of the South.

Harris himself said, in the introduction to Uncle Remus, that he hoped his book would be considered:

"A sympathetic supplement to Mrs. Stowe's [author of Uncle Tom's Cabin] wonderful defense of slavery as it existed in the South. Mrs. Stowe, let me hasten to say, attacked the possibilities of slavery with all the eloquence of genius; but the same genius painted the portrait of the Southern slave-owner, and defended him."

This which would appear to mean that Harris was against cruelty to blacks yet in favor of slavery. In Harris' day, among most Southern whites, this would have been a moderate position to take. However in the more enlightened parts of American society in the 1880s and certainly in today's America, such views would be considered contemptibly racist and obviously hypocritical.


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