Uncle Remus and Bre'r Rabbit

Week 14: American Tales - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Introduction to Uncle Remus and his Friends (1892)

Here is Joel Chandler Harris' Introduction to the collection Uncle Remus and His Friends, first published in 1892. Weblink.

[...] Naturally, these stories are written in what is called a negro dialect. It seemed to be unavoidable. I sympathize deeply and heartily with the protest that has been made against the abuse of dialect. It is painful, indeed, when the form of the lingo trails on the earth and the thought flies in the air. I had intended to apologize for the plantation dialect, but a valued correspondent in "The Flatwoods" assure me that "old man Chaucer was one of the earliest dialect writers." [...]

The student of English, if he be willing to search so near the ground, will find matter to interest him in the homely dialect of Uncle Remus, and if his intentions run towards philological investigation, he will pause before he has gone far and ask himself whether this negro dialect is what it purports to be, or whether it is not simply the language of the white people of three hundred years ago twisted and modified to fit the lingual peculiarities of the negro. Dozens of words, such as hit for it, ax for ask, whiles for while, and heap for a large numbe of people, will open before him the whole field of the philology of the English tongue. He will discover that, when Uncle Remus tells the little boy that he has "a monstus weakness fer cake what's got reezins in it," the pronunciation of reezins uncovers and rescues from oblivion Shakespeare's pun on raisins, where Falstaff tells the Prince, "If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries, I would give no man a reason on compulsion, I."

[...] But there is no pretense that the old darkey's poor little stories are in the nature of literature, or that their re-telling touches literary art at any point. All the accessories are lacking. There is nothing here but an old negro man, a little boy, and a dull reporter, the matter of discourse being fantasies as uncouth as the original man ever conceived of. [...]

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
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