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Uncle Remus

Joel Chandler Harris

Book Overview: 

Many readers will already be familiar with Uncle Remus’ favorite animal characters – Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox among them – and some of the popular tales concerning them. (To this day, “tar baby” as an expression for a particularly sticky situation that is almost impossible to solve, has passed into the English language and common use.) Even people who have never read any of these tales will know exactly why you don’t throw a rabbit into a briar patch, mainly because Walt Disney produced his first movie ever to use professional actors with animation, called “Song of the South”, based on the Uncle Remus tales.

Joel Chandler Harris, a newsman in Georgia, grew up listening to folktales told by the local black population. Later, he published his version of these tales in a series of stories printed in the “Atlanta Constitution.” The tales of, and by, Harris’ chief character Uncle Remus, an old black man scrabbling to make his living in the post-Civil War South, were extremely popular and widely read. Harris’ use of innovative spelling to give the reader a sense of the black dialect was considered novel.

While this is not a book that will pass a current political correctness test, due to its use of labels for black folks which have gone out of polite conversation, Uncle Remus is a largely sympathetic look at post-war plantation life. Uncle Remus himself is a warm, folksy man of good humor and dry wit, and after finishing his animal stories, the remaining sayings and tales are a moment of history frozen in amber.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Mr. Buzzard laughin' behime his back, he did, en right den en dar, widout gwine enny fudder, Brer Fox, he smelt a rat. But Mr. Buzzard, he keep on holler'n:

"'He in dar, Brer Fox. He in dar, sho. I done seed 'im.'

"Den Brer Fox, he make like he peepin' up de holler, en he say, sezee:

"'Run yer, Brer Buzzard, en look ef dis ain't Brer Rabbit's foot hanging down yer.'

"En Mr. Buzzard, he come steppin' up, he did, same ez ef he wer treddin' on kurkle-burs, en he stick his head in de hole; en no sooner did he done dat dan Brer Fox grab 'im. Mr. Buzzard flap his wings, en scramble 'roun' right smartually, he did, but 'twant no use. Brer Fox had de 'vantage er de grip, he did, en he hilt 'im right down ter de groun'. Den Mr. Buzzard squall out, sezee:

"'Lemme 'lone, Brer Fox. Tu'n me loose,' sezee; 'Brer Rabbit 'll git out. You er gittin' close at 'im,' sezee, 'en le. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Okay I know, before I even start this that there are already a TON of people who are morally opposed to this book on the grounds that it is racially derrogatory. I happen to disagree. As a child of the south, I grew up hearing all the Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox stories and they have not damaged me...more

I recommend this edition. Robert Hemenway's 1981 introduction not only sets the problematic racist element in context, but shows how accurately Harris captured the black folk tales, some with their origins in Africa. Still an important contribution to American literature.

I really wanted to give this book a higher rating than just three stars. The folk-tales themselves are wonderful and culturally significant classic trickster tales that, to quote the introduction by Robert Hemenway, "symbolically inverted the slave - master relationship and satisfied the deep hum...more

I did not actually finish this book, but I read enough of it to get a strong sense of the ideas and stories and voice. Its strengths involve an incredibly faithful rendering of an older dialect of AAVE, which is valuable to have in the public record, and some twists on traditional African folktal...more

I read this for my grad-level folklore class, so my approach to the book was predominantly critical. However, I was surprised by the intricacy of the tales and genuinely enjoyed many of them. Brer Rabbit is an authentic Afro-American figure, evolved from the the trickster hare character of Africa...more

As Uncle Remus says about his brand of syrup, "Dis sho' am good."
Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings is a fascinating read that splits opinions like no other. On the one hand you have people saying things like:

“As the racial stereotypes of the nineteenth century are inappro...more

Takes a bit of work to read since it is written in a Southern dialect, but I found reading it out loud helped. Wonderful stories that are a part of the American tapestry and tend to transport the reader back to that thine and place.

I loved this book and although I've seen portions of the movie here in the states I don't think I've ever seen the whole thing and last I heard never will. Its sad if you ask me because it depends on what you choose to focus on and if you focus on the fact it places slavery in a good light which...more

I had read a few of the Brer Rabbit stories as a kid; this collection included not just the Brer Animal stories, but also all of the (even more) terribly offensive Uncle Tom stories of Uncle Remus. I have an affection for the Brer stories, and also see some value in their place as American 'Aesop...more

I was curious to read this, particularly in light of Alice Walker's assertion that these stories made her ashamed to be black. I get it, but the stories, songs & sayings are interesting from the perspective of a certain time & place & viewpoint; I think the author meant well.

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