Racial Undertones In Brer Rabbit Essay, Research Paper
Among the finest of America’s humorists and Southern local-color writers, Joel Chandler Harris, b. Eatonton, Ga., Dec. 9, 1848, d. July 3, 1908, did much to popularize American Negro plantation culture. His most memorable creation, “Negro Folklore: The Story of Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox, as Told by Uncle Remus,” first appeared in the Atlanta Constitution on July 20, 1879. The popularity of the story led him to publish the collection Uncle Remus, His Songs and Sayings (1880). In the 1880s Harris began to publish whimsical, imaginative stories that accurately reproduced local black folktales in authentic language. The stories centered on the character of Uncle Remus, a former slave who is the servant of a Southern family. To entertain the young master, Uncle Remus tells him stories about animals who act like humans, such as Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear. Speaking in a southern black dialect, Uncle Remus narrates encounters between Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear in which Brer Rabbit continually outwits his foes. In a typical story, Brer Rabbit begs his captors to throw him anywhere but in the briar patch, using psychology to effect his escape.
With these stories Harris became one of the first American authors to use dialect to evoke a specific time and place; at the same time the Uncle Remus tales address and comment on universal human characteristics. They also provide an important record of black oral folktales in the Southeastern United States. The collections containing these stories include Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings (1880), Nights with Uncle Remus (1883), Free Joe and Other Georgian Sketches (1887), Uncle Remus and His Friends (1892), and Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit (1906). Several sequels followed, concluding with the posthumously published Uncle Remus and the Little Boy (1910). Harris also wrote many volumes of short stories, the most significant of which is Mingo and Other Sketches in Black and White (1884). His novels include Sister Jane, Her Friends and Acquaintances (1896) and Gabriel Tolliver (1902).
In Joel C. Harris’ “Uncle Remus Tales”, the undertones of racial attitude are quite apparent. The most obvious evidence is the contrast between Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear. Brer Bear can be best equated to a slave who has been raised to the position of an overseer, and Brer Rabbit is the one slave that stands out above the rest. Their “relationship ” is that of Bear trying to enforce his ‘power’ on the other smaller animals. Being that Brer Bear is dumber than the other animals, he is easily confused and outwitted by the same tactic. Brer Rabbit on the other hand is the epitemy of the “cunning slave”. Brer Rabbit constantly outwits Bear with the same plea (”Please don’t throw me into the Briar Patch! Anything but that”), which is the same as the slave asking for the easiest punishment not to be rendered, knowing that it will be given because it seems to be the hardest to the punishers.
Another evident racial undertone is the relationship between Brer Rabbit and “Misser” Fox, which is easy to figure out. It is the relationship between whites and blacks during slavery and post slavery in the south. “Misser” Fox is indicative of the caniving and sly ways of the white man during this area in dealing with black people, especially slaves.