Nights with Uncle Remus Essay - Critical Essays

Joel Chandler Harris


Nights with Uncle Remus is a difficult book for readers, especially those who do not have any experience with black dialects. Seventy stories are written in both nineteenth century rural black dialect of Middle Georgia and the Gullah of the coast, a language even more foreign and difficult to many, despite Harris’ simplified introduction to Gullah and his glosses.

The thematic development of the novel can be obscured by the numerous tales, the arguments by the various narrators, and the repetition of themes and story elements. Harris had used many of his most distinctive stories in Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings. In this book, he had to rely more heavily on stories from informants.

Harris’ thirty-one page, scholarly introduction to the book addresses “ethnologists and students of folk-lore,” unlike the general audience in his first book. His extensive comparison of some of his individual stories to those in academic collections by folklorists may put off young adult readers expecting a work of fiction. Harris intended to give the reader “a volume embodying everything or nearly everything, of importance in the oral literature of the negroes of the Southern States.” With this and his first book, he nearly succeeded but at the danger of exhausting a reader who must struggle through more than four hundred pages mainly in black dialect. The competition among the narrators is most intense in chapters 31 and 32;...

(The entire section is 496 words.)