Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus Tales
This chapter develops the discussion of race, slavery, and animality in relation to Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus Tales. While Harris's stories are often read as allegories of slavery, such interpretations risk what Steve Baker calls the “denial of the animal,” which reads animality wholly according to the anthropomorphism endemic to the genre of the fable. The reduction of animality to a problem of literary form thus forestalls an exploration into what the zoontological presence of these creatures might say about slavery and race. Reading “The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story,” for instance, I ask how this mass of tar and turpentine allegorizes the collapse of Heidegger's ontological differentiation between human, animal, and inanimate thing, thereby subverting the master/slave dynamic that obtains between Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit on the one hand, and Brer Rabbit and the tar baby on the other. Turning to a story called “How the Birds Talk,” which focuses on a black man who interprets an owl's seemingly senseless hooting as intelligible speech, the chapter concludes that the story challenges the stereotypical association of blacks with both mimicry and mental inferiority by illustrating the irreducible hiatus between sign and meaning inherent in signification as such.
Fordham Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.