American Lit Podcast #9 — Joel Chandler Harris, Nights with Uncle Remus

In the past, my students have expressed frustration when they encountered Jim’s thick dialect in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so I thought I’d ease them into that, by producing a podcast that introduces the dialect, in the context of much shorter tales.

We are studying Nights with Uncle Remus, which is the second collection
of African-American folklore, collected and published by Joel Chandler
Harris in the 1880s.  The first collection of Uncle Remus tales
included the story, “The Wonderful Tar Baby.” I’m going to use it in to
introduce our reading selections, which are from Harris’s second
collection, Nights with Uncle Remus.  Uncle Remus Podcast Part 1 — Dialect.mp3

The stories involve animals tricking each other and, occasionally, interacting with, and occasionally besting — “Mr. Man” – the property owner.  So we have a white editor writing down (for a mostly white readership) those stories that he remembers from his own youth. The framing narratives that describe the relationship between Uncle Remus and the child show an idealized relationship. When slaves helped raise children, often while watching their own children at the same time, kids being kids, even though they live in a racist society they are going to have affection for the people who care for them.  And of course if you’re a slave taking care of the master’s children, it’s to your benefit to make sure the kids like you.  So slaves would have told stories that would be appropriate to tell in front of the master’s kids.  — Uncle Remus Podcast Part 2 — Nights With Uncle Remus (I through VIII) .mp3