Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

InThe Days When the Animals Talked: Black American Folktales and How They Came to Be, William J. Faulkner retells some stories about African American life in the antebellum South, as related to him as a boy in South Carolina by his friend Simon Brown, a former slave. Part 1 of the book contains Brown’s recollections of his experiences as a young slave in Virginia. His stories explore the themes of punishment, courtship, and narrow escapes. Brown also weaves yarns that teach methods for solving problems, showing slaves using their wits to gain their freedom. Some stories examine cultural history by reporting on how slaves worshiped. Others are entertaining and feature scary ghost and witch stories. Part 2 of the book is a collection of folktales with animal characters that Brown told to Faulkner.

Many themes and messages can be found in these tales, such as the danger of wishing for too much power, especially by taking on an evil form. In “The Ways of a Witch,” a woman is granted her desire to become a witch. Witches can get out of their skins and fly about invisibly. One time that she did so, a nasty surprise awaited her when she got back into her skin: She found that salt and pepper had been shaken into it and were burning her raw flesh underneath. Such intense misery is frightening to young readers and serves as a moral lesson.

Another story features a traditional Christmas practice: On Christmas day when two people meet, the first one to say the greeting “Christmas gift” is entitled to receive a gift at the expense of the other person. The story...

(The entire section is 651 words.)