The stories from the slave’s experience told in part 1 of The Days When the Animals Talked are sharply poignant. Their effect can be explained by the line in a Negro spiritual that says, “I’m so glad, trouble don’t last always,” offering advice about thinking a positive thought in a troubled situation. The stories in which an enslaved person is successful in his or her attempt to avoid some measure of pain are not only captivating but also instructive; they teach others in a comparable situation, facing a strong adversary, how to survive and even profit. One lesson is about giving a humane response to inhumane treatment. While it is human to react negatively to negative behavior—to show anger in response to anger, resentment in response to resentment—such reactions are excluded from the folktales. Instead, the reactions of the characters are logical and carefully worked out. There is a distinct and vibrant spirituality in the songs and Golden Rule behavior in the tales in this collection. The morning and evening prayer of Simon Brown is especially noteworthy. Various artistic qualities are found in these narratives, but many embody a constant testimony to faith in a Supreme Being and the reward of joy from acting on that faith.
One characteristic of the animal stories in part 2 is a set of unstated messages about relationships between animals, which signify relationships between people, usually between an owner and an enslaved...
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This collection of stories can be a source of humor and thought-provoking entertainment for more mature readers who can read between the lines to see the messages, images, and meanings that underlie the surface.
Critics debated William J. Faulkner’s decision regarding the use of dialect in The Days When the Animals Talked. Reviewers are often divided on the merits of including dialect for the sake of cultural integrity at the risk of bringing embarrassment on the users of such speech and on members of a particular culture. On the other hand is the view that one should always avoid dialect and the derision that can result. Faulkner took the middle ground between these two positions. He retained regional dialect but used synonyms for certain words that had been used for humor or derision. One reviewer accused the author of violating the integrity of the oral tradition by rejecting the heavy use of dialect and using only a sprinkling of such words and phrases. Another reviewer claimed that the author substituted some dialect in favor of standard words and patterns in order to avoid perpetuating the negative Uncle Remus stereotype.
This book was the only publication by Faulkner, an academician who should not be confused with the celebrated Southern novelist and short-story writer of the same name. The lasting impression that traditional stories had on the author is demonstrated by this collection, which was published when Faulkner was eighty-six years old and after his professional career as a minister and dean at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.