The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story by Joel Chandler Harris, 1881
The magic trick:
A very, very clever story
It is difficult to assess the Uncle Remus stories as literature without being overwhelmed by the both the racism of the Disney Song Of The South movie interpretation and the way Harris utterly co-opted these slave stories for the profit of white men. It’s like the white people got together and said, “You know what, wow, as if slavery wasn’t bad enough, let’s go steal all the culture you used to keep your sanity amidst the horror and use it for our own entertainment and profit.”
But if Short Story Magic Tricks could solve the ills of American society, well, this would be a far different (and more successful) blog. Instead, let’s just try to consider the story itself.
Flat out – the “Tar-Baby Story” is very, very clever. It’s smart, funny, memorable, classic. That’s really all there is to say about it. The plot is simple and clever, and its characters and lessons are applicable to pretty much life at any time in any place. And that’s quite a trick on Harris’s part (even if he undoubtedly stole it all from the true storytellers).
“’Skin me, Brer Fox,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, ‘snatch out my eyeballs, t’ar out my years by de roots, en cut off my legs,’ sezee, ‘but do please, Brer Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch,’ sezee.