REMUS TALES: SELECTED TEXT

Readers of Harris' Uncle Remus folk tales might be tempted to assume, as we were early in our research for this project, that the author had some kind of secret racial egalitarian agenda. Many of the stories he relates through Remus are clearly subversive of American apartheid's hierarchies. They spring from a tradition with roots in Africa, and also in Northern and Eastern Europe - the animal tale, with moral lessons about escape from submission and the value of cunning. In the hands of black Southerners in the nineteenth century, such stories clearly addressed their submissive situation. However, the tales must have had a second role as pure entertainment: if the stories were seen as basically subversive by their black tellers, would they have dared relate them to their white masters or bosses? One would doubt it, especially in the tense racial atmosphere of the 1880s and '90s.

Harris's understanding of his task is shaped by the latter definition; he sees the recording of Southern blacks' "poetic imagination" and "quaint and homely humor" as entertainment for whites and as a valuable anthropology of sorts, the preservation of a fading, picturesque voice. What Harris, a man who despite his anthropological efforts subscribed to most of his culture's white-superiority beliefs, failed to see is that the tales he recorded for posterity undermined the very culture he worked to stimulate.

The selections below are presented in the order they appeared in the original volume of Remus tales (1881).

  • "Uncle Remus Initiates the Little Boy"
    ......."Initiates" analysis/context

  • The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story
    ......."Tar-Baby" analysis/context

  • How Mr. Rabbit was Too Sharp for Mr. Fox
    ......"How Mr. Rabbit was Too Sharp" analysis/ context

  • Miss Cow Falls a Victim to Mr.Rabbit
    ......Miss Cow analysis/context

  • Old Mr. Rabbit, He's a Good Fisherman
    ......"Fisherman" analysis/context

  • A Story About Little Rabbits
    ......"Little Rabbits" analysis/context

  • Why the Negro is Black
    ......"Why the Negro" analysis/context

    Note: All above selections are taken from "Legends of the Old Plantation", copyright 1881, the first of the Uncle Remus collections by Harris)



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