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Harris, a white man, added insult to injury by also using the white publishing industry to make a small fortune out of time-honored, traditional, black folk materials. Walker has for two decades been echoing the concerns of other black critics, from the Harlem Renaissance and from the s and s on.
Meanwhile, at another point on the literary spectrum, a whole gallery of protagonists in children's stories—from Kim's animal friends in Rudyard Kipling 's Jungle Books — and Beatrix Potter 's Peter Rabbit to Howard Garis's Uncle Wiggly — , A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh , , and E. White 's Charlotte's Web —were influenced by Harris's creation of street-smart, recognizably human animal characters who speak "de same like folks.
Harris embedded his retold animal folktales in a rhetorically sophisticated narrative frame featuring Uncle Remus and a little white boy listener, who is the son of the plantation master. Uncle Remus's affectionate but also mentoring interrelationship with the boy is an important pairing in the long line of fictional male friends of mixed race—Natty Bumppo and Chinkachgook, Ishmael and Queequeg, and Huck Finn and Jim. In Harris's second volume, Nights with Uncle Remus , three other black narrators also tell folktales: Aunt Tempy, the uppity and privileged cook in the big house; 'Tildy, the often impertinent housemaid; and Daddy Jack, a sagacious old Gullah Negro from the Sea Islands of Georgia, who performs stories complexly counterpointed with conjuring chants and musical refrains.
Uncle Remus himself proves, however, to be the most fully developed and gifted vernacular storyteller of the group.
Remus's character gradually evolves in the later Uncle Remus collections, even as his young white listener grows up and marries, eventually sending his own rather sissified son to learn at the knee of the seemingly ageless old man. On one narrative level, Uncle Remus appears to be telling only entertaining, harmless slapstick animal tales drawn nostalgically from the pre—Civil War, Old South plantation tradition.
These stories typically highlight the stupidity of the physically stronger animals, who are almost invariably trapped by their own attempts to ensnare Brer Rabbit. In the introduction to Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings, however, Harris acknowledges the allegorical significance of the stories he was retelling. He also notes that he is trying to show a side of black character and experience that Harriet Beecher Stowe does not treat in Uncle Tom 's Cabin. Clearly, Brer Rabbit is the black slave's alter ego and trickster-hero, and the so-called stronger animals represent the white slave owners.
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On deeper symbolical and archetypal levels, furthermore, Uncle Remus's role is to initiate his young white listener into the complex realities of adult life. Yet at the same time, Uncle Remus has been educating entire generations of readers—young and old, white, black, brown, red, and yellow—about the destructive power plays and status struggles among members of the animal kingdom who clearly represent socially and ethnically different, jealous, contentious, and even openly warring, members of the human race itself. Regularly, too, Brer Rabbit, as the archetypal trickster, crosses traditional boundaries in order to stir things up and effect changes in the system.
As James Baldwin once observed, the artist is an incorrigible disturber of the peace; so, too, Brer Rabbit, who cannot stand for the neighborhood to be too quiet or complacent. Thus Brer Rabbit creates chaos, challenges the power structure, or raises Cain for the sheer heck of it. And he survives his own hair-raising escapades because, as his tricky old shaman creator, Uncle Remus, counsels, he knows how to use his "thinkin' masheen," a more powerful weapon than his adversaries' brute strength. Uncle Remus is an accomplished role-player and trickster himself.
While affectionately telling the little white boy superficially entertaining tales, he is also exploring, just below the surface, the precariousness of life in a violent, predatory world of interracial strife and class warfare, with its constant assaults on the human body and spirit. As Uncle Remus, "with unusual emphasis," once stops to explain to the little white boy and to his fellow raconteurs 'Tildy, Aunt Tempy, and Daddy Jack in Nights with Uncle Remus, "ef deze yer tales wuz des fun, fun, fun, en giggle, giggle, giggle, I let you know I'd a-done drapt um long ago" p.
Uncle Remus's Brer Rabbit tales celebrate human resourcefulness, courage, and resiliency in the face of oppression.
But he also challenges his readers and listeners to find a common ground and common humanity, free from slavery, terror, and violence—where the human spirit can find its best expression, not in trickery and subversion, but in mutual understanding and compassion.
Harris, Joel Chandler. The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus. Edited by Richard Chase. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, New York : Penguin, New York : McClure, Phillips, New York: D. Appleton, New and rev. Edited by Robert Hemenway. New York: Penguin Classics, Lester, Julius. New York: Dial Books. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Modern retellings of the Uncle Remus stories.
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Parks, Van Dyke. San Diego : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Illustrations by Barry Moser. Baer, Florence E. Sources and Analogues of the Uncle Remus Tales. Helsinki, Finland: Folklore Fellows Communications, Bickley, John T. Bruce Bickley Jr. Bickley and R. Bickley, R. Bruce, Jr.
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Joel Chandler Harris. Athens: University of Georgia Press, Lincoln, Nebr. Critical Essays on Joel Chandler Harris.
Boston: G. Hall, Westport, Conn. Brasch, Walter M. Macon, Ga. Cartwright, Keith.
UNCLE REMUS, HIS SONGS AND HIS SAYINGS
Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, Goldthwaite, John. New York: Oxford University Press, Hemenway, Robert. Okepewho, Isidore. Harvard English Studies Boston: Osgood, London: Osgood, McIlvaine, New York: Appleton, Little Mr.
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Thimblefinger and His Queer Country. New York: D. Appleton and company, Sister Jane: Her Friends and Acquaintances. Tales of the Home Folks in Peace and War.
Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®
Free Joe, and Other Georgian Sketches. New York: McClure, Phillips, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin. Appleton and Company, Joel Chandler Harris: Editor and Essayist. Tales from Uncle Remus. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, Brer Rabbit; Stories from Uncle Remus. Adapted by Margaret Wise Brown, with the A. Frost pictures redrawn for reproduction by Victor Dowling. New York; London: Harper, Qua: A Romance of the Revolution. Thomas H. English, ed. Atlanta: The Library, Emory University, Seven Tales of Uncle Remus.