Harris, Joel Chandler
Harris, Joel Chandler 1848-1908
American short story writer, novelist, journalist, and children's author.
Best known as the creator of the fictional character Uncle Remus, an old former slave who relates folktales to a young white listener, Harris is generally regarded as the first person to accurately record the dialect and folklore of African Americans. His life spanned the days of slavery and the Reconstruction, and his works evince both a sympathy for the tradition of slavery as well as a humanistic concern for blacks—a dichotomy that has prompted much discussion about the value and intent of Harris's stories. He is also considered an important author of Southern local-color stories, although most of his works in this vein do not have the humor and universal themes of the fables told by Uncle Remus.
Harris was born near Eatonton, Georgia, to an unwed mother. Biographers note that his red hair and his status as an illegitimate child resulted in excessive shyness on the part of Harris, who attempted to overcome his reticence through humor and practical jokes. At thirteen Harris went to work as a typesetter's apprentice to Joseph Addison Turner, editor and publisher of the weekly Countryman. Harris was allowed to explore the library on Turner's plantation, where the paper was printed, and Turner also tutored the boy in English literature and grammar. With his finances eroded because of the Civil War, Turner halted publication of The Countryman in 1866. Harris moved to Macon to take a job as a typesetter with the Telegraph. In 1867 he began three years as a staff writer with the Monroe Advertiser in Forsyth, Georgia, and subsequently worked as an associate editor for the Savannah Morning News, where his daily column gained him a regular following. Harris moved to Atlanta in 1876 and took a position with the Constitution. There he published a series of sketches written in prose intended to duplicate the speech of plantation slaves. Harris introduced the Uncle Remus character in 1879, using him as a mouthpiece to recount the slave legends and folktales that Harris had heard as a young man on Turner's plantation. Harris's stories earned him fame, which increased in 1880 upon the publication of Uncle Remus, His Songs and Sayings, the first of many collections of Uncle Remus tales. He also published several volumes of local-color stories, a few novels, and children's books, among other works, before retiring in 1900 from his position as editor at the Constitution. Harris remained busy with various literary projects until his death in 1908.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Harris's major collections are Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings; Nights with Uncle Remus; Uncle Remus and His Friends; and Told by Uncle Remus. Related by Uncle Remus to a young boy, his folktales often depict anthropomorphic animals competing to get the better of each other. Brer Rabbit is a central character in a majority of these tales, and he defeats his larger, stronger adversaries—commonly Brer Fox—through wit and sometimes homicide. Harris's animal characters always pretend to be sociable and neighborly throughout their contests, never openly acknowledging their ongoing warfare or accusing each other of misdeeds. Other folktales in Harris's collections treat myths, supernatural events, and folk wisdom. In his local-color stories Harris depicted common folk, black and white, who were trying to adapt to the social and economic disruptions of life in the South during the Civil War and the Reconstruction.
The dialect sketches of Harris were immediately hailed as the most accurate and entertaining tales of their type. His admirers found a compelling sense of authenticity in the narrative voice of Uncle Remus; to many, Remus reminded them of idyllic life before the war. The folktales gained the attention of ethnologists and folklorists, and critics agree that Harris provided an invaluable service by recording African American tales which may have otherwise been lost to history. However, many scholars point to latent racism in Harris's portrait of slavery as a pleasant institution, and others have noted that Harris himself believed that slavery had been beneficial to African Americans. In fairness to Harris, historians have shown that these racist attitudes were widespread in the antebellum South. Many of Harris's contemporaries actually considered his views on race progressive because, among other things, he advocated public education for blacks. Nevertheless, the treatment of race in Harris's stories has garnered much controversy and influenced critical debate about the import of the animal tales. Regarding the amoral quality of the stories, readers have maintained that Brer Rabbit's crafty, nearly sinister deeds are simply entertaining; some commentators find that the stories present violence and cynicism without discrimination, undermining the ostensible humor of the tales; while still others maintain that Brer Rabbit's viciousness toward his stronger foes parallels the slave's bitter hatred of his owner. The debate surrounding Harris and his works has helped ensure that the Uncle Remus tales are still discussed more than a hundred years after the publication of Harris's first animal tale.
Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: Folklore of the Old Plantation 1880
Nights with Uncle Remus: Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation 1883
Mingo, and Other Sketches in Black and White 1884
Free Joe, and Other Georgian Sketches 1887
Daddy Jake the Runaway, and Short Stories Told after Dark by "Uncle Remus" 1889
Balaam and His Master, and Other Sketches and Stories 1891
Uncle Remus and His Friends: Old Plantation Stories, Songs, and Ballads (short stories and poems) 1892
Tales of the Home Folks in Peace and War 1898
The Chronicles of Aunt Minervy Ann 1899
Plantation Pageants 1899
*On the Wing of Occasions: Being the Authorized Version of Certain Curious Episodes of the Late Civil War, Including the Hitherto Suppressed Narrative of the Kidnapping of President Lincoln 1900
The Making of a Statesman, and Other Stories 1902
Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation 1905
Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit 1907
Uncle Remus and the Little Boy 1910
Uncle Remus Returns 1918
The Witch and the Wolf: An Uncle Remus...
(The entire section is 286 words.)
SOURCE: An introduction to The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris, compiled by Richard Chase, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1955, pp. xxi-xxvii.
[In the following essay, which was originally published as the introduction to Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, Harris expresses interest in the documentary and comparative anthropological significance of his stories.]
I am advised by my publishers that this book is to be included in their catalogue of humorous publications, and this friendly warning gives me an opportunity to say that however humorous it may be in effect, its intention is perfectly serious; and, even if it were otherwise, it seems to me that a volume written wholly in dialect must have its solemn, not to say melancholy features. With respect to the Folk-Lore series, my purpose has been to preserve the legends in their original simplicity, and to wed them permanently to the quaint dialect—if, indeed, it can be called a dialect—through the medium of which they have become a part of the domestic history of every Southern family; and I have endeavored to give to the whole a genuine flavor of the old plantation.
Each legend has its variants, but in every instance I have retained that particular version which seemed to me to be the most characteristic, and have given it without embellishment and without exaggeration. The dialect, it will be observed,...
(The entire section is 2723 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Uncle Remus and His Legends of the Old Plantation, in The Spectator, Vol. 53, No. 2753, April 2, 1881, pp. 445-46.
[In the following review of the English version of Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, the critic applauds Harris's tales while noting that the collection depicts the "gullibility of the stronger races" as well as "delight" in "the habits of cunning, deceit, and dishonesty. "]
This charming little book [Uncle Remus and His Legends of the Old Plantation] appears to be written by a partisan of "the peculiar institution," and so very thorough a partisan, that he speaks of Mrs. Stowe's "wonderful defence of slavery as it existed in the South." "Mrs. Stowe," he goes on, "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 slaveowner, and defended him." In the same sense, and no other, Mr. Harris obviously regards this book as a defence of the slave-system. Because it depicts the slave of the old plantations as often warmly attached to the family in which he was domesticated, as full of sympathetic qualities, full of humour and fancy, and full, too, of a certain kind of social independence, Mr. Harris appears to suppose that it is an apology for the system. In reality, this book illustrates the habits of cunning, deceit, and dishonesty, and the...
(The entire section is 3536 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Free Joe, and Other Georgian Sketches, in The New York Times, January 15, 1888, p. 14.
[In the following review, the critic praises Free Joe, and Other Georgian Sketches.]
[In Free Joe, and Other Georgian Sketches] may be found "Free Joe," "Little Compton," "Aunt Fountain's Prisoner," "Trouble at Lost Mountain," and "Azalia." We know of no story which for simple pathos equals "Free Joe," Joe being that poor old colored man, freed by an accident, and to whom freedom had been a curse. How with a few words Mr. Harris gives us the character of Spite Calderwood, who just for "cussedness" separates Joe from Lucinda, until there is no one he has to love but his black cur dog, Little Dan. What is particularly to be admired in Mr. Harris is that he never truckles to the opinions of the past nor is subservient to those of to-day. There were Spite Calderwood's both in the North and South, men to be despised.
It is around and about Hillsborough and Rockville that most of Mr. Harris's stories occur, and the author is happy in the descriptions of his own State, Georgia. If it be a special tenderness Mr. Harris gives his Aunt Fountain or Uncle Prince, though we may smile at their queer methods of expression, one never can laugh at them. Uncle Remus, though he was black as the ace of spades, has more admirers than Miss Sally's little boy. "Azalia" is the longest of the...
(The entire section is 585 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Free Joe, and Other Georgian Sketches, in The Nation, Vol. 46, No. 1183, March 1, 1888, pp. 182-83.
[In the following review, the critic notes that the stories in Free Joe, and Other Georgian Sketches are realistic yet beautiful.]
Mr. Harris's stories bound together under the title Free Joe depict the life and characters with which he has already made us familiar. The Georgian negro, bond and free, the poor white, and the mountaineer are given enduring life by his pen. It may be heresy to suggest it, but one feels that his portraits of the Southern aristocrat, as he was before the war, are no less truthful. The rich young slaveowners with rather provincial tongue, views, and clothes, who rejoiced to sit by the hour in the corner grocery with their heels in the air, have a startling semblance of reality. The war undoubtedly deprived them of traditionally magnificent surroundings, but it can hardly be responsible for a total disappearance of the haughty mien tempered by infinite condescension, the unvarying elegance of diction, the chivalrous virtue, with which fancy loves to invest the old-time despot. In all his stories Mr. Harris prefers to describe the relation between master and slave as one of loving protection and grateful devotion, rather than one of brutal terrorism and craven fear. The master is always a hero to his valet, and the valet's love for the...
(The entire section is 261 words.)
SOURCE: "Uncle Remus's War Stories," in The Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1900, p. 10, part 2.
[In the following review, the critic praises On the Wing of Occasions, particularly the story "The Kidnapping of President Lincoln. "]
[The stories in On the Wing of Occasions] deal with some more or less imaginary episodes in the unwritten history of the civil war, and they cause the reader to realize how much more interesting certain unwritten records are than some that have been accepted as history. The stories are full of action and of skillfully managed plot, and though we have no actual battle scenes they are yet tales of warfare, with battle fields within doors, where the weapons are human wits. A certain New York hotel, where the head waiter is a famous Captain McCarthy, where all the employes are members of a Secret Service committee, and where to ask for a plate of fried onions or a glass of water is to give a signal to a confederate, plays an important part in these stories, particularly in the first one, "Why the Confederacy Failed."
But the flower of the collection is a lengthy short story entitled "The Kidnapping of President Lincoln." It tells of how young Francis Benthune and his wise old friend, Billy Sanders, having been granted permission to cross the Yankee lines in order to escort home a troublesome feminine spy, decided to improve the opportunity to kidnap...
(The entire section is 705 words.)
SOURCE: "Joel Chandler Harris," in Southern Writers: Biographical and Critical Studies, Volume I, Publishing House M. E. Church, South, 1897, pp. 41-88.
[In the following essay, which is usually considered the first substantial biographical and critical study of Harris, Baskerville provides a general appreciation of the author, whom he deems "the most sympathetic, the most original, the truest delineator" of African American life.]
Middle Georgia is the birthplace and home of the raciest and most original kind of Southern humor. In this quarter native material was earliest recognized and first made use of. A school of writers arose who looked out of their eyes and listened with their ears, who took frank interest in things for their own sake, and had enduring astonishment at the most common. They seized the warm and palpitating facts of everyday existence, and gave them to the world with all the accompaniments of quaint dialect, original humor, and Southern plantation life. The Middle Georgians are a simple, healthy, homogeneous folk, resembling for the most part other Southerners of like rank and calling in their manners, customs, and general way of living. But they have developed a certain manly, vigorous, fearless independence of thought and action, and an ever increasing propensity to take a humorous view of life. In their earlier writings it is a homely wit, in which broad humor and loud laughter...
(The entire section is 7665 words.)
SOURCE: A review of On the Wing of Occasions, in The Nation, Vol. 71, No. 1848, November 29, 1900, pp. 429-30.
[The following review presents a positive assessment of the collection On the Wing of Occasions.]
Lest the glory of fresh conquest should obliterate the memory of battles long ago, Mr. Harris has, perhaps, deemed the moment opportune to print "Certain Curious Episodes of the Late Civil War." The episodes are not very curious, and not at all incredible. The narration drags over unimportant matters and then leaps, leaving gaps as if Mr. Harris had forgotten the really critical moves in the games of political conspiracy. Capt. McCarthy, the soul of Confederate intrigue, and, during several agitating years, the imposing head waiter of the New York Hotel, appears to have been an interesting and resourceful person, yet, by his gloomy confidence that Providence had decided against the South, rather disqualified for work requiring for success a hearty belief that God was with him. Apart from intrinsic improbability and a stumbling start, "The Kidnapping of President Lincoln" is an excellent tale. The President's remarkable personality is vividly presented, and all the detail adds to the accepted portrait of that "patient, kindly man, with the bright smile and sad eyes, with melancholy at one elbow and mirth at the other."
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SOURCE: "In Memory of Uncle Remus," in The Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, No. 2, February, 1940, pp. 77-83.
[An American educator and critic, English edited Harris's works Qua: A Romance of the Revolution (1946) and Seven Tales of Uncle Remus (1948). In addition, he is the author of A.B. Frost and His Predecessors Illustrating Uncle Remus (1978) and the coauthor of Joel Chandler Harris: A Reference Guide (1978). In the following excerpt, English avers that philanthropy and sensitivity pervaded Harris's life and fiction.]
Shortly after joining [the Atlanta Constitution, Joel Chandler Harris began] the series of Negro dialect sketches for which he created the character of Uncle Remus, who was to reach his full stature as the teller of the folk tales of the old plantation with the publication of the original Tar-Baby story in July, 1879.
Uncle Remus caught on immediately. To many of the older generation he brought nostalgic memories of childhood friends in the quarters, house servants or field hands, who had told them long ago the tales of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox in the very manner which Joel Chandler Harris had made his own. To the youngest generation he brought a story-telling art inexpressibly droll and irresistibly taking, which, while it avoided the Sunday-school morality of so much juvenile literature, yet was interpenetrated with an earthy...
(The entire section is 1847 words.)
SOURCE: "Uncle Remus and the Malevolent Rabbit: 'Takes a Limber-Toe Gemmun fer ter Jump Jim Crow'," in Commentary, Vol. 8, No. 1, July, 1949, pp. 31-41.
[Wolfe is an American novelist, short story writer, and critic. A note appended to the following essay upon its initial publication in Commentary states: "For generations, American children and adults have chuckled over the adventures of Uncle Remus's Brer Rabbit. Bernard Wolfe here suggests that Uncle Remus's loyal white readers may not, after all, have properly understood that the joke was on them: at the heart of the merry fables was the half-suppressed revenge of a resentful minority."]
Aunt Jemima, Beulah, the Gold Dust Twins, "George" the Pullman-ad porter, Uncle Remus. . . . We like to picture the Negro as grinning at us. In Jack de Capitator, the bottle opener that looks like a gaping minstrel face, the grin is a kitchen utensil. At Mammy's Shack, the Seattle roadside inn built in the shape of a minstrel's head, you walk into the neon grin to get your hamburger. . . . And always the image of the Negro—as we create it—signifies some bounty—for us. Eternally the Negro gives—but (as they say in the theater) really gives—grinning from ear to ear.
Gifts without end, according to the billboards, movie screens, food labels, soap operas, magazine ads, singing commercials. Our daily bread: Cream O' Wheat, Uncle...
(The entire section is 7380 words.)
SOURCE: "Animal Stories," in Satiric Allegory: Mirror of Man, Archon Books, 1969, pp. 57-70.
[Leyburn was an American educator and critic. In the following excerpt from a study originally published in 1956, she presents the Uncle Remus animal stories as models of satiric allegory.]
"prettie Allegories stealing under the formali Tales of beastes, makes many more beastly then beastes: begin to heare the sound of vertue from these dumb speakers."
Sir Philip Sidney
Brute creation seems sometimes to exist as a satire on mankind. All that the allegorist needs to do is to point the parallel. Moralists have used man's likeness to the animals for instruction in a variety of ways ranging from the strange edification of the medieval bestiary to the reproof of the newspaper political cartoon. There has never been a time when men were not trying to teach each other the lessons to be learned from the creatures. The Bible is full of such teaching; and the stories spread under the name of Aesop are probably more widely known than any other classical literature. The Orient is as rich as the Occident in this lore; and the African folk tales, many of which reappear with a new set of animal characters in the Uncle Remus stories, attest the vitality of the genre without dependence on a written language.
Sometimes the teaching is...
(The entire section is 3476 words.)
SOURCE: "Daddy Joel Harris and His Old-Time Darkies," in The Southern Literary Journal, Vol. I, No. 1, December, 1968, pp. 20-41.
[Turner is an American educator, poet, and critic specializing in African American and Southern literature. In the following essay, he proposes that Harris's depiction of African Americans is largely distorted, proceeding from an idealized notion of slavery and plantation life.]
Most readers identify Joel Chandler Harris with only one Negro—Uncle Remus, who blends wisdom and childishness in proportions which have endeared him to generations of white and black American readers. To presume that Uncle Remus is Harris's archetypal Negro, however, is to misunderstand Harris's use of Remus and to minimize the powers of observation of an author who recognized and reproduced physical, mental, and emotional differences in slaves and freedmen.
For example, Aaron, the Arab (The Story of Aaron, 1896, and Aaron in the Wildwoods, 1897), has a well-shaped head, sharp black eyes, thin lips, a prominent nose, and thick, wavy hair. Descended from a tribe of brown-skinned dwarfs, who "were always at war with the blacks," Tasma Tid [in Gabriel Tolliver: A Story of Reconstruction, 1902], who has straight, glossy black hair, is "far above the average negro in intelligence, in courage and in cunning, .. . as obstinate as a mule, . . . uncanny when she chose...
(The entire section is 7162 words.)
SOURCE: "Uncle Remus and the Ubiquitous Rabbit," in The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Vol. X, No. 4, October, 1974, pp. 787-804.
[Rubin is an American critic and educator who has written and edited numerous studies of Southern literature. In the following excerpt, he defends Harris's depiction of African Americans, judging it progressive when considered in historical perspective, but finds the animal tales to be Harris's truly notable achievement for their direct, unsentimental portrayal of life.]
In late August of 1876, an epidemic of yellow fever struck the city of Savannah, Georgia. By the first of September, twenty-three persons had died, and physicians were advising all who could leave to do so at once. Among those departing was a twenty-seven-year-old newspaperman who feared for the health of his family and decided to seek safety in the higher elevation of Atlanta, and it was not long before the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, Evan P. Howell, and his new associate editor, Henry W. Grady, arranged to have him join the staff on a temporary basis. On November 21 the Constitution was able to announce that Joel Chandler Harris had accepted a permanent position.
Grady and Harris were old friends; each admired the other's work immensely. Thus it came about, as the historian C. Vann Woodward points out, that during the years of the 1880s there were at work...
(The entire section is 6227 words.)
SOURCE: "Uncle Remus and the Folklorists," in The Southern Literary Journal, Vol. VII, No. 2, Spring, 1975, pp. 88-104.
[Below, Light examines Harris's perception of the ethnological significance of his Uncle Remus stories.]
No one was more surprised than Joel Chandler Harris himself to learn that the Negro animal fables he had written for the Atlanta Constitution had a "scientific" as well as a literary value. Yet within six months of the first weekly installment of the stories in the Constitution on November 16, 1879, John Wesley Powell of the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of Ethnology had written him concerning their ethnological importance. Powell's was but the first of a flood of such communications. As Harris later recalled, the collection of the stories under the title Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, published in December, 1880, "brought letters from learned philologists and folklore students from England to India. . . . from royal institutes and literary societies, from scholars and travelers." Harris's biographers agree that he knew little if anything about the subject of folklore when he first began writing the Uncle Remus series, and Harris himself in the introduction to Uncle Remus said that "ethnological considerations formed no part of the undertaking which has resulted in the publication of this volume." It would have been surprising had Harris known...
(The entire section is 5379 words.)
SOURCE: "The Oral Tradition," in Down Home: A History of Afro-American Short Fiction from Its Beginnings to the End of the Harlem Renaissance, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1975, pp. 19-41.
[An American educator and critic, Bone is the author of The Negro Novel in America (1958) and Richard Wright (1969). In the following excerpt, he asserts that African American tales exemplified by Harris's Uncle Remus stories embody "the black slave's resistance to white power."]
Joel Chandler Harris is in bad odor among the younger generation of literary men. The blacks, who tend to equate Uncle Remus with Uncle Tom—sometimes, one suspects, without having read either Harris or Stowe—reject the Uncle Remus books out of hand. And sympathetic whites, who hope thereby to ingratiate themselves with the black militants, are fond of giving Harris a gratuitous kick in the shins. Both responses are regrettable, for they blind their victims to the archetypal figure of Brer Rabbit, who is not only a major triumph of the Afro-American imagination, but also the most subversive folk hero this side of Stagolee.
Harris did not invent the animal fables that constitute the imaginative center of the Uncle Remus books. But he did transpose them to the written page, thus saving them from possible oblivion. It was through Harris that a major figure in the pantheon of American folk heroes saw the light of day....
(The entire section is 7407 words.)
SOURCE: "The Short Fiction," in Joel Chandler Harris, Twayne Publishers, 1978, pp. 104-29.
[An American educator and critic, Bickley is the author of Joel Chandler Harris (1978) and Joel Chandler Harris: A Reference Guide (1978) and the editor of Critical Essays on Joel Chandler Harris (1978). In the following excerpt, he surveys Harris's realistic short stories, published in collections between 1884 and 1902.]
I. THE CRITICAL RECEPTION OF THE SHORT STORIES
When Mingo and Other Sketches in Black and White appeared in 1884, reviewers were delighted to discover that Harris could write effective local-color and realistic works. But Harris remained so completely identified with his extremely popular Uncle Remus tales that reminders by the critics of his "other mode" continued regularly into the middle of the twentieth century. By the 1960s, when "Free Joe and the Rest of the World" or "Aunt Fountain's Prisoner" began to be included in anthologies of American literature along with "The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story" and "The Moon in the Mill-Pond," Harris's reputation as a local colorisi was firmly established.
Typical of the early critics' responses to Harris's short stories are those of James C. Derby and William Baskervill. Both men admired Harris's portraits of the Southern poor white and the mountaineer, and they praised his ability to...
(The entire section is 10647 words.)
SOURCE: "Uncle Remus: Puttin' on Ole Massa's Son," in The Southern Literary Journal, Vol. XV, No. 1, Fall, 1982, pp. 83-90.
[In the following essay, Hedin detects subversiveness not only in the tales related by Uncle Remus but also in Uncle Remus's narration and his interaction with the young boy to whom he tell the tales.]
In Joel Chandler Harris's collections of Uncle Remus tales, scholars have noticed an apparent contradiction between the tales themselves and the framework of teller and audience that Harris created as a setting for them. Folklorists and literary critics now tend to agree that Brer Rabbit and the other seemingly weak animals who inhabit the tales are ultimately subversive of the plantation myth of docile, contented slaves; for their surface politeness and respect mask an effective survival ethic of cunning, selfinterested manipulation, and even violence against the seemingly strong. Yet in contrast with the thrust of the tales, Uncle Remus and his listener—the unnamed seven year-old son of Remus's former masters—appear to confirm in their relationship everything that the tales serve to undercut. Remus comes across as a loyal retainer, affectionate toward the boy and happily subservient to his parents in his role of entertainer and surrogate educator.
Folklorists have not been particularly bothered by this seeming contradiction; they tend to see the tales as...
(The entire section is 3509 words.)
SOURCE: "Twisted Tales: Propaganda in the Tar-Baby Stories," in The Southern Quarterly, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Winter, 1984, pp. 54-69.
[In the following essay, Keenan asserts that the Uncle Remus tar-baby stories have been used in different ways as propaganda by Harris, African American slaves, Northerners, Southerners, and several other groups as recently as the late twentieth century.]
Just over a hundred years ago the Tar-Baby story was introduced into American literature, as propaganda, and throughout its history of retelling, it has continued to carry a propaganda message, or rather one should say, messages. Not only has the story been altered to carry different messages by various tellers or by the same teller over an expanse of time, but also the hearers who have seen different things in the story have contributed to a multiplicity of meanings. The modern audience mainly knows the tale indirectly from Joel Chandler Harris (1848-1908) as it was filtered and distorted by the sentimentality and conservatism of the Walt Disney movie Song of the South (1946) and through the children's book based on the movie. Earlier generations of the 1880s through the 1930s had read it from Harris's first book, Uncle Remus, His Songs and Sayings (a miscellany of stories, sketches, maxims, and poems published in the Atlanta Daily Constitution [1879-1880], then collected and published in book form at the end...
(The entire section is 6020 words.)
SOURCE: "Joel Chandler Harris' Tales of Uncle Remus: For Mixed Audiences," in Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature. Volume Two: Fairy Tales, Fables, Myths, Legends, and Poetry, ChLA Publishers, 1987, pp. 118-26.
[In the following essay, Keenan addresses prominent issues in scholarship regarding the Uncle Remus tales and reasserts the enduring value of these stories—for children and adults.]
In 1955, the folklorist Richard Chase compiled a rich anthology entitled The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus, a collection of 185 tales taken from the nine books of Uncle Remus tales written by Joel Chandler Harris. Three of those books were published posthumously, an indication of the wide popularity that Harris' stories had for adults and children in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Chase's anthology was intended to be the capstone and memorial of Harris' literary achievement.
Since 1955, however, the popularity of the tales has wavered, quite often under inaccurate and biased criticism. Uncle Remus has been called an "Uncle Tom." The dialect of the stories has fallen out of fashion. Even Brer Rabbit has been suspected of revolutionary tactics. In the most extreme, erroneous, and influential of these attacks, "Uncle Remus and the Malevolent Rabbit" [Commentary, July, 1949], Bernard Wolfe almost did what Harris' literary creation could...
(The entire section is 4211 words.)
Bickley, R. Bruce, Jr. Joel Chandler Harris: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1978, 360 p.
Annotated list of writings about Harris, arranged chronologically. In his preface, Bickley indicates the major trends in the study of Harris and the most notable commentaries about him.
Derby, J. C. "Joel Chandler Harris." In his Fifty Years among Authors, Books and Publishers, pp. 433-40. New York: G. W. Carleton & Co., 1884.
Biographical sketch that concludes with a reprint of the Tar-Baby story.
Harris, Julia Collier. "Joel Chandler Harris: Constructive Realist." In Southern Pioneers in Social Interpretation, edited by Howard W. Odum, pp. 141-64. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1925.
Account by Harris's daughter-in-law of his personal views and intentions as an author.
Hubbell, Jay B. "Joel Chandler Harris." In his The South in American Literature, pp. 782-95. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1954.
Chronicles Harris's career as a journalist and author.
Baer, Florence E. Sources and Analogues of the Uncle Remus Tales. Helsinki, Finland: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1980, 188 p.
Traces elements of Harris's Uncle Remus...
(The entire section is 1235 words.)