to read information on Joel Chandler Harris - the 'compiler' of The
Uncle Remus Tales.
to read a modern translation of an Uncle Remus Tale.
The legend of Uncle Remus is referred to in letter sixty-four as Tashi
recites one of them. Not only does this again throw open the issue of
slavery but also colonialism – that is stealing from one country its
beliefs and material items in order to supply your own country with them.
Nettie, in letter fifty seven wonders at how many "thousands of
vases, jars, masks" and "statues" the British have taken
from Africa, a place that "once had a better civilization" than
the European countries, but now experiences poverty and famine.
same too, can be said for the Uncle Remus Tales, written by Joel Chandler
Harris [pictured], who after hearing them recited by African slaves on an
American plantation, rewrote them – though he always said that he was
merely "the compiler" – and as a result made thousands of
Harris and The Uncle Remus TalesThe Uncle Remus Tales written by Joel Chandler
Harris became a national phenomenon in the 1870s through Harris’
satirical newspaper column in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The
tales however had a very interesting contextual past. Harris originally
heard the stories recited by slaves as a young boy working on a nearby
plantation and then converted them into written narratives, firstly in the
local newspaper, and then as the stories became known throughout the
world, Harris would go onto write books. By the time Harris had died in
1908 he had written ten volumes of his work on Uncle Remus, and his
stories had been translated into twenty-seven different languages.
Uncle Remus, the central character in Harris’ slave fiction, was an
old slave, who told his moral fables to the son of a Union officer whom he
had shot before coming to work on the plantation as punishment for what he
had done. Although Remus told the stories in Harris’ fiction, he was
never the protagonist. Harris’ stories usually revolved around animals
such as Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit and Brer Wolf. Like many children’s tales
of that era, there was a central moral to each tale – a lesson to be
learnt. Although the characters did not always put these into practice,
still Uncle Remus at the end of each tale would remind the reader of the
difference between right and wrong.
Despite being a national and international success the Remus tales did
not go without criticism. When addressing the reader at the beginning or
end of a story, it was obvious that Uncle Remus and indirectly Joel
Chandler Harris expressed a desire for the slave trade to be brought back.
Indeed, the slave trade was a major talking point at the time when the Uncle
Remus Tales were published because here was Harris airing his ‘dirty
linen’ only three years after the regime had been abolished. Uncle Remus
was in favour of the plantation life, but for every ex-plantation owner
that read Harris’ stories and believed that "indeed, the slave
trade is not so bad after all" another person would be ready
Despite mixed opinion, Harris continued projecting his opinions through
the ‘mouth piece’ of Uncle Remus until his death, creating over one
hundred and eighty distinctive stories. Harris himself was a reserved man,
despite being an expert in satirical writing. In the 1940s, his tales were
taken and adapted by Walt Disney, who visited his home, one of the oldest
museums in the United States of America, to pay homage to Joel Chandler
Harris, the man who created and by many, was thought of as being
Uncle Remus himself.
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An Uncle Remus TaleTo
increase your understanding of the Uncle Remus Tales [pictured],
below I have reproduced a translation of Joel Chandler Harris’ most
famous story, Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. My original intention
was to include the original story, written in Gullah - that is, the
traditional African-American dialect – but in fearing that people might
fail to understand below is an adapted version of the famous tale. In this
instalment, Brer Fox, annoyed by Brer Rabbit, tricks him by
creating a model baby made out of tar. It would seem however that as the
story reaches its climax the tables are turned and by the end of the story
we see that Brer Rabbit is not just a bossy and nosy character but also a
Notice also while you read the story any devices in this story that
also seem evident in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.
A translation of Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
compiled by Joel Chandler Harris
One day Brer Fox thought of how Brer Rabbit had been
cutting up his capers and bouncing around until he'd come to believe that
he was the boss of the whole gang. Brer Fox thought of a way to lay some
bait for that uppity Brer Rabbit.
He went to work and got some tar and mixed it with
some turpentine. He fixed up a contraption that he called a Tar-Baby. When
he finished making her, he put a straw hat on her head and sat the little
thing in the middle of the road. Brer Fox, he lay off in the bushes to see
what would happen.
Well, he didn't have to wait long either, 'cause by
and by Brer Rabbit came pacing down the road - lippity-clippity,
clippity-lippity - just as sassy as a jay-bird. Brer Fox, he lay low. Brer
Rabbit came prancing along until he saw the Tar-Baby and then he sat back
on his hind legs like he was astonished. The Tar-Baby just sat there, she
did, and Brer Fox, he lay low.
"Good morning!" says Brer Rabbit. "Nice
weather we're having this morning."
Tar-Baby didn't say a word, and Brer Fox, he lay low.
"How are you feeling this morning?" says
Brer Fox, he winked his eye real slow and lay low and
the Tar-Baby didn't say a thing.
"What is the matter with you then? Are you
deaf?" says Brer Rabbit. "Cause if you are, I can holler
louder," says he.
The Tar-Baby stayed still and Brer Fox, he lay low.
"You're stuck-up, that's what's wrong with you.
You think you're too good to talk to me," says Brer Rabbit. "And
I'm going to cure you, that's what I'm going to do."
Brer Fox started to chuckle in his stomach, he did,
but Tar-Baby didn't say a word.
"I'm going to teach you how to talk to
respectable folks if it's my last act," says Brer Rabbit. "If
you don't take off that hat and say howdy, I'm going to bust you wide
open," says he.
Tar-Baby stayed still and Brer Fox, he lay low.
Brer Rabbit kept on asking her why she wouldn't talk
and the Tar-Baby kept on saying nothing until Brer Rabbit finally drew
back his fist, he did, and blip - he hit the Tar-Baby on the jaw. But his
fist stuck and he couldn't pull it loose. The tar held him. But Tar-Baby,
she stayed still, and Brer Fox, he lay low.
"If you don't let me loose, I'm going to hit you
again," says Brer Rabbit, says he, and with that he drew back his
other fist and blap - he hit the Tar-Baby with the other hand and that one
stuck fast too.
Tar-Baby she stayed still, and Brer Fox, he lay low.
"Turn me loose, before I kick the natural
stuffing out of you," says Brer Rabbit, says he, but the Tar-Baby
just sat there.
She just held on and then Brer Rabbit jumped her with
both his feet. Brer Fox, he lay low. Then Brer Rabbit yelled out that if
that Tar-Baby didn't turn him loose, he was going to butt her crank-sided.
Then he butted her and his head got stuck.
Brer Fox walked out from behind the bushes and
strolled over to Brer Rabbit, looking as innocent as a mockingbird.
"Howdy, Brer Rabbit," says Brer Fox.
"You look sort of stuck up this morning," says he. And he rolled
on the ground and laughed and laughed until he couldn't laugh anymore.
By and by he said, "Well, I expect I got you this time,
Brer Rabbit," says he. "Maybe I don't, but I expect I do. You've
been around here sassing after me a mighty long time, but now it's the
And then you're always getting into something that's
none of your business," says Brer Fox, says he. "Who asked you
to come and strike up a conversation with this Tar-Baby? And
who stuck you up the way you are? Nobody in this round world. You just
jammed yourself into the Tar-Baby without waiting for an invitation,"
says Brer Fox. "There you are and there you'll stay until I fix up a
brush-pile and fire it up, ‘cause I'm going to barbecue you today, for
sure," says Brer Fox.
Then Brer Rabbit started talking mighty humble.
"I don't care what you do with me, Brer Fox, says
he, "Just so you don't fling me in that briar patch. Roast me, Brer
Fox," says he, "But don't fling me in that briar patch."
"It's so much trouble to kindle a fire,"
says Brer Fox, says he, "that I expect I'd better hang you,"
"Hang me just as high as you please, Brer Fox,
says Brer Rabbit, "but for the Lord's sake, don't fling me in that
briar patch," says he.
"I don't have any string, " says Brer Fox,
"Now I expect I had better drown you, " says he.
"Drown me just as deep as you please, Brer
Fox," says Brer Rabbit, "But please do not fling me in that
briar patch, " says he.
"There's no water near here," says Brer Fox,
says he, "And now I reckon I'd better skin you."
"Skin me Brer Fox," says he. "Snatch
out my eyeballs, tear out my ears by the roots," says he, "But
please, Brer Fox, don't fling me in that briar patch, " says he.
Of course, Brer Fox wanted to get Brer Rabbit as bad
as he could, so he caught him by the behind legs and slung him right in
the middle of the briar patch. There was a considerable flutter when Brer
Rabbit struck the bushes, and Brer Fox hung around to see what was going
By and by he heard someone call his name and ‘way up
on the hill he saw Brer Rabbit sitting cross-legged on a chinquapin log
combing the tar pitch out of his hair with a chip. Then Brer Fox knew he
had been tricked.
Brer Rabbit hollered out, "Born and bred in the
briar patch. I was born and bred in the briar patch!" And with that
he skipped out just as lively as a cricket in the embers of a fire.
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For me, the last metaphor of Brer Rabbit being "just
as lively as a cricket in the embers of a fire" reminds me of Mary
Agnes in letter seventy-four, whose "embers" are said to be
"dying back on the stove." Additionally, the way in which Brer
Rabbit tricks Brer Fox, by pleading with him not to do what he in fact
wishes him to do, resembles the way in which Sofia is rescued from prison
by Mary Agnes:
"Say she happy in prison, strong girl
like her. Her main worry is just the thought of ever being some white
Introduction to The Uncle Remus Tales written by
Matthew Kane .
Brer Rabbit & the Tar-Baby written by Joel
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