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Uncle Remus

Uncle Remus in Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, 1881
"Old Plantation Play Song", from Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, 1881

Uncle Remus is a fictional character, the title character and fictional narrator of a collection of African-American folktales adapted and compiled by Joel Chandler Harris, published in book form in 1881. A journalist in post-Reconstruction Atlanta, Georgia, Harris produced seven Uncle Remus books.

Contents

  • Structure 1
  • Controversy and legacy 2
  • Adaptations in film and other media 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Structure

Uncle Remus is a collection of animal stories, songs, and oral folklore, collected from Southern United States African-Americans. Many of the stories are didactic, much like those of Aesop's Fables and the stories of Jean de La Fontaine. Uncle Remus is a kindly old former slave who serves as a storytelling device, passing on the folktales to children gathered around him.

The stories are written in an eye dialect devised by Harris to represent a Deep South Gullah dialect. The genre of stories is the trickster tale. At the time of Harris' publication, his work was praised for its ability to capture plantation negro dialect.[1]

Br'er Rabbit ("Brother Rabbit") is the main character of the stories, a likable character, prone to tricks and trouble-making who is often opposed by Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear. In one tale, Br'er Fox constructs a lump of tar and puts clothing on it. When Br'er Rabbit comes along he addresses the "tar baby" amiably, but receives no response. Br'er Rabbit becomes offended by what he perceives as Tar Baby's lack of manners, punches it, and becomes stuck.[2]

Controversy and legacy

The animal stories were conveyed in such a manner that they were not seen as Mrs. Stowe's [author of Uncle Tom's Cabin] wonderful defense of slavery as it existed in the South. Mrs. Stowe, 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 slave-owner, and defended him.[3]

Mark Twain read the Uncle Remus stories to his children, who were awed to meet Harris himself. In his Autobiography Twain describes him thus:

He was the bashfulest grown person I have ever met. When there were people about he stayed silent, and seemed to suffer until they were gone. But he was lovely, nevertheless; for the sweetness and benignity of the immortal Remus looked out from his eyes, and the graces and sincerities of his character shone in his face.

Twain wrote that "It may be that Jim Wolf was as bashful as Harris. It hardly seems possible...." Jim Wolf being a person from the first humorous story Twain ever told—the story recorded in "Jim Wolf and the Cats".

Adaptations in film and other media

Uncle Remus as portrayed by James Baskett in Song of the South

The stories have inspired at least three feature films. The first and best known is Walt Disney's Song of the South, released in 1946. The film was a combination of live action and animation. Disney hired vaudeville and radio actor James Baskett to portray Remus, saying: "We want [the audience] to see 'Uncle Remus' and not some actor whose personality is already known to them through other screen roles." Baskett's appearance, a large African-American man with a round face, contrasts with the appearance of Uncle Remus in earlier book illustrations by Frederick S. Church, A. B. Frost, and E. W. Kemble.[4] Ralph Bakshi's 1975 film Coonskin is a satire of the Disney film that adapts the Uncle Remus stories to a contemporary Harlem setting. The Adventures of Brer Rabbit is a 2006 direct-to video production which has hip-hop influences.[5]

An Uncle Remus and His Tales of Br'er Rabbit newspaper strip ran from October 14, 1945, through December 31, 1972.[6]

The song "Uncle Remus" was included on the 1974 Freak Out! about the same issues.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Life on the Mississippi, c.1883, Samuel L. Clemens, Ch. XLVII "Uncle Remus" and Mr. Cable
  2. ^ "Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings". www.gutenburg.org. 2000-08-01. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  3. ^ For more on the relationship between Uncle Remus and Uncle Tom's Cabin, see Robin Bernstein, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights, (New York: New York University Press, 2011), pp. 133-141.
  4. ^ Brasch, Walter M. (2000). Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus and the "Cornfield Journalist": The Tale of Joel Chandler Harris. Mercer University Press. P. 275.
  5. ^ "Child's Play". www.washingtonpost.com. 2006-04-09. Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  6. ^ #16, 2009Hogan's Alley"Disney’s “Uncle Remus” strips,"

References

  • William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide

External links

  • Full text of books by Uncle Remus from Project Gutenberg
  • Theodore Roosevelt autobiography on Brer Rabbit and his Uncle
  • Short biography of Joel Chandler Harris with photograph (article by the Eatonton Literary Festival, Eatonon, Georgia)
  • Official Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton, GA
  • Official Site of Uncle Remus
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