American Literature I (Fall, 2004; Seton Hill University)


1 November 2004

Discuss ''Br'er Rabbit''

Br'er Rabbit ("Brother Rabbit") is a trickster character from African American folk culture. (Bugs Bunny is also a trickster, though I wouldn't take that comparison too far.)

Uncle Remus is a fictional storyteller, created by the white newspaperman Joel Chandler Harris, whose whimsical narrations of "life on the plantation" exposed wide audiences to folk culture and folk wisdom, but at the same time helped perpetuate certain romanticized notions of life in the deep south.

I am asking you to read

  1. Uncle Remus Initiates the Little Boy
  2. The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story
  3. Why the Negro is Black

You can find analyses for each of these stories on this project page at the University of Virginia. (It appears to be an old student project.)

Discuss The John Henry Legend

Read:

  • Wikipedia on John Henry
  • NPR's coverage: Present at the Creation

    On the above page, click on the audio icons to hear a news story and a recording of the ballad song, as well as the lyrics to one particular recording.

  • Read this early version of the song, and look at the four later versions that the site offers.

    On the above site, choose two versions of the song, and come to class with a one-paragraph statement that characterizes the textual differences between your chosen texts.

In what ways is the John Henry story a tall-tale? How is it social commentary? Is it primarily a story about technology, or about race? Is it too simplistic to say "both"?

Oral Presentations (Panel G)