Uncle Remus

Uncle Remus is the fictional title character and narrator of a collection of black American folktales compiled and adapted by Joel Chandler Harris and published in book form in 1881. Harris was a journalist in post-Reconstruction Atlanta, and he produced seven Uncle Remus books. He wrote these stories to represent the struggle in the Southern United States, and more specifically in the plantations. He did so by introducing tales that he had heard and framing them in the plantation context. He wrote his stories in a dialect which represented the voice of the narrators and their subculture. For this choice of framing, his collection has encountered controversy.[1]

Uncle Remus
First appearanceUncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation
Created byJoel Chandler Harris
Portrayed byJames Baskett (Song of the South)


Uncle Remus is a collection of animal stories, songs, and oral folklore collected from southern black Americans. Many of the stories are didactic, much like those of Aesop's Fables and Jean de La Fontaine's stories. Uncle Remus is a kindly old freedman who serves as a story-telling 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 Negro dialect. Uncle Remus is a compilation of Br'er Rabbit storytellers whom Harris had encountered during his time at the Turnwold Plantation. Harris said that the use of the Negro dialect was an effort to add to the effect of the stories and to allow the stories to retain their authenticity.[2] The genre of stories is the trickster tale. At the time of Harris's publication, his work was praised for its ability to capture plantation Negro dialect.[3]

Br'er Rabbit ("Brother Rabbit") is the main character of the stories, a character prone to tricks and troublemaking who is often opposed by Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear. In one tale, Br'er Fox constructs a doll out of 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 the tar baby's lack of manners, punches it and kicks it, and becomes stuck.[4]


Harris compiled six volumes of Uncle Remus stories between 1881 and 1907; a further three books were released posthumously, following his death in 1908.

  • Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings (1881)
  • Nights with Uncle Remus (1883)
  • Uncle Remus and His Friends (1892)
  • The Tar Baby and Other Rhymes of Uncle Remus (1904)
  • Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation (1905)
  • Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit (1907)
  • Uncle Remus and the Little Boy (1910)
  • Uncle Remus Returns (1918)
  • Seven Tales of Uncle Remus (1948)

Controversy and legacy

The animal stories were conveyed in such a manner that they were not seen as racist by many among the audience of the time. By the mid-20th century, however, the dialect and the narrator's "old uncle" were considered a demeaning stereotype by some black Americans, reflecting what they considered to be racist and patronizing attitudes. There is additional controversy in the stories' setting, a former slave-owning plantation that is portrayed in a passive manner. He said he had memorized the animal stories told by Uncle George Terrell, Old Harbert, and Aunt Crissy at the plantation; he wrote them down some years later. He acknowledged his debt to these story-tellers in his fictionalized autobiography On the Plantation (1892).

Adaptations in film and other media


In 1902, artist Jean Mohr adapted the Uncle Remus stories into a two-page comic story titled Ole Br'er Rabbit for The North American.[5]

The McClure Newspaper Syndicate released a Br'er Rabbit Sunday strip drawn by J. M. Condé from June 24 to October 7, 1906.[6]

An Uncle Remus and His Tales of Br'er Rabbit newspaper Sundays-only strip (King Features Syndicate) ran from October 14, 1945, through December 31, 1972, as an offshoot of the Disney comics strip Silly Symphony.[7]


The stories have inspired at least three feature films:


  • Brer Rabbit Tales (1991) by Emerald Hill Productions.


Uncle Remus appears heavily as a supporting character in The Residents Rock Opera, "Not Available", recorded in 1974 and released in 1978. After returning from Easter Island, he provides unhelpful, dismissive advice to the lead character, quoting "Well, strangers have left on longer trains before." in response to his cries for help and understanding. "Uncle Remus", a song by Frank Zappa and George Duke from Apostrophe (') (1974), about the Joel Chandler Harris character.[10]

See also


  1. Montenyohl, Eric (1986). "The Origins of Uncle Remus". Folklore Forum. 18 (2): 136–167.
  2. Jim, Korkis (2012). Who's afraid of the Song of the South? : and other forbidden Disney stories. Norman, Floyd. Orlando, Fla.: Theme Park Press. ISBN 0984341552. OCLC 823179800.
  3. Clemens, Samuel L. (1883). "Chapter XLVII: 'Uncle Remus' and Mr. Cable". Life on the Mississippi.
  4. "Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings". www.gutenburg.org. 2000-08-01. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
  5. Becattini, Alberto (2019). "Genesis and Early Development". American Funny Animal Comics in the 20th Century: Volume One. Seattle, Washington: Theme Park Press. ISBN 168390186X.
  6. Holtz, Allan (2012). American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. p. 83. ISBN 9780472117567.
  7. "Disney's "Uncle Remus" strips". Hogan's Alley (16). 2009.
  8. Brasch, Walter M. (2000). Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus and the "Cornfield Journalist": The Tale of Joel Chandler Harris. Mercer University Press. p. 275.
  9. "Child's Play". www.washingtonpost.com. 2006-04-09. Retrieved 2008-08-29.
  10. "Not Available - Historical - The Residents". www.residents.com. Retrieved 2019-08-11.

Further reading

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