The Reversal of Power in Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris
In Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings, Uncle Remus frames the black folktales as entertainment for the young boy with the similar approach Joel Chandler Harris writes this entertaining novel. Both the author and Uncle Remus employ the format of entertainment to further convey the issues of black and white race relations. One issue that dealt with slavery is the distribution of power. Pre-Civil War the white race legally held power over the black race. Chandler uses a reversal of power in the relationship between the black Uncle Remus and the white little boy to display the gradual changes in the power structure among blacks and whites postwar times. Uncle Remus possesses ways of controlling the boy and his actions by threatening to not tell him stories for bad behavior and for with holding stories until the boy will obey his wishes. Uncle Remus tells the story of "The Deluge and how it came about" to the small boy obviously for entertainment but for another purpose. The story contains deeper meaning in that it can also be read to show the alteration of the conventional hold of power among the larger creatures to the smaller creatures which reflects the relationship of Uncle Remus and the little boy, and furthermore reflects black/white issues.
As Chandler tells the story of Uncle Remus and the small boy, the power that the black man holds over the white child is apparent. Uncle Remus can be seen as a representative for the black race while the little boy can be a representative of the white race. The control that Uncle Remus possesses over the boy reflects the issue of possibility for power change in post war times.
Uncle Remus illustrates his power control in deciding when he believes a story should be told and if a story should be told according to the boy's behavior and actions. On one occasion Uncle Remus tells the boy that he "ain't tellin' no tales ter bad chilluns" because he suspects that the child badly behaves by doing acts such as "chunkin' dem chickens dis mawnin," "knockin' out fokes's eyes wid that Yallerbammer slin des 'fo dinner," and "flingin' rocks on top of [Uncle Remus'] house, which a little mo'en one of un em would er drap on [Remus'] head." The extent of Uncle Remus' power over the child is shown in the child's response to the alleged behavior. He claims, "Well now, Uncle Remus, I didn't go to do it." The boy thrives on hearing the entertaining stories so he even goes as far as to confess and tell Uncle Remus " I won't do so any more." The extent of what the boy will do to hear the stories is further exhibited as "Miss Sally's" little boy coerces Remus with "teacakes" so he will continue the tales. The old man believes that "seein' um's better'n hearin' tell un um" so the boy's liking of the stories creates in him a willingness to do whatever Uncle Remus asks even though the taking of...