Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798
Uncle Remus, the principal raconteur in the Uncle Remus books. This old black man tells all but eighteen of the antelbellum folktales. In “Songs,” in which he is introduced, he is nearly eighty years old, telling a story to a seven-year-old white boy called Pinx by his mother, Miss Sally. Miss Sally and her husband, Mars John, own the plantation in central Georgia on which Uncle Remus works, living by himself in a cabin only a few yards from the “big house.” The black people on the plantation consider him their leader, and its owners think of him as a “family confidant.” A gentle and dignified man, he does not put up with much nonsense, even from Miss Sally and her family, for whom he feels great affection. A master storyteller, his principal themes are the dangers of acting “biggity,” too full of oneself, and the state into which the world has fallen because of people acting as if they know no more of morals than do animals. At times dictatorial, jealous, and even petty, he never remains thus for long, being at heart and most often a strong, generous man who is humble in the best sense of the word but never subservient. His greatest challenge comes in his waning years, in the form of Pinx’s son, an overly proper and adult little boy whose long-dormant childhood Uncle Remus, at Miss Sally’s unspoken request, undertakes to awaken, primarily by telling him folktales.
Brer Rabbit, the clever protagonist of two-thirds of the tales and a supporting character in most of the rest. He is probably the best-known trickster in American literature and also the most loved, despite the fact that during the course of the tales in which he appears he lies to, steals from, injures, mutilates, betrays, murders, and humiliates virtually every other animal and human being in the “settlement,” except members of his own family, Brer Terrapin, and Miss Meadows and her “gals.” Sometimes he deceives and harms others because they will not leave him and his family alone; other times, he does so because he is a born troublemaker who simply cannot stand it when things are too peaceful and who simply cannot pass up any opportunity to play one of his “pranks” and laugh himself sick at its results, some of which are ghastly. Readers actually like Brer Rabbit because Uncle Remus always presents him as a cheerful, ingenious little scamp, not without friends, who is mischievous rather than malicious and whose pranks are hilarious, though absolutely not to be imitated.
Brer Fox, a southern gray fox. He is Brer Rabbit’s chief nemesis and most frequent dupe. Despite the fact that in at least three tales he is presented as a fairly clever creature, Brer Fox manages to trick Brer Rabbit only twice. Every other time he comes into contact with Brer Rabbit—or Brer Terrapin—he ends up being “outfoxed” and at the very least humiliated; sometimes he also ends up robbed, injured, or dead. A hothead as well as a dupe, he is the only animal who ever breaks the sacrosanct peace of Miss Meadows’ house.
Brer Wolf, who, next to Brer Fox, is Brer Rabbit’s most frequent adversary; next to Cousin Wildcat, he is the most dangerous. He is the only animal who eats any animals other than frogs, chickens, or cows. Among his victims are some of Brer Rabbit’s children. He seems to be the only animal with a hint of conscience or religion. In one story, he dies because his guilt causes him to fail a trial by fire; in another, he agrees to pray before killing Brer Rabbit.
Brer Possum, a genuinely hapless creature who twice is an absolute innocent who gets burned to death for something Brer Rabbit has done. The first time, in fact, it is Brer Possum himself who suggests the trial by fire that he cannot possibly win.
Cousin Wildcat, the only animal who lives outside the community. He is thoroughly unsociable and unresponsive to greetings. He is also the most deadly and most sinister character. In one tale, he slashes Brer Wolf nearly in half with one swipe; in another, he drops silently out of a tree to seize Brer Rabbit and then whispers threats in a chilling, barely audible voice.
Miss Meadows, an enigmatic woman about whom readers know only three things: that she and her “gals” often entertain Brer Rabbit and “de gang” at her house; that Brer Rabbit successfully courts one of her gals; and that Daddy Jack considers her a “noung leddy,” but most emphatically not a “werry nice noung leddy.” Some critics now consider her a “madam.”
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