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Bestial TracesRace, Sexuality, Animality$
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Christopher Peterson

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823245208

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823245208.001.0001

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Slavery's Bestiary

Slavery's Bestiary

Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus Tales

(p.50) Slavery's Bestiary
Bestial Traces

Christopher Peterson

Fordham University Press

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.

Keywords:   Joel Chandler Harris, Animality, Race, Allegory

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