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‘ [354] insignificant.’ This poem differs from the works hitherto considered in three important respects: the negro is the central character, the poem being written not to exploit him but to portray him; the dialect, both in its grammar and its rhetoric, is an improvement on everything that had preceded it; and the mingling of humour and religion, though admirably true to life, had been hitherto unachieved.

It is evident, therefore, that Joel Chandler Harris came at a time when the interest in the negro was at its height. His value as literary material had been realized in part, but no satisfactory portrait of him had been drawn. The war, too, with its attendant saturnalia of Reconstruction, was over, and the negro was trying to fit himself into a new political and industrial regime. It will be seen also that Uncle Remus is a very different character from those by which the negro had hitherto found representation in literature. The character of Uncle Remus is noteworthy not only because it represents both a type and an individual, but because the type is now nearly extinct. Before the war every large plantation or group of plantations had its Uncle Remus; today he lingers here and there in a few villages of the South, but is regarded more as a curiosity, a specimen, a relic of the past than as a part of the present.

As portrayed by Harris, Uncle Remus sums up the past and dimly hints the future. The character was modelled in part after that of an old negro, Uncle George Terrell, whom Harris had learned to know intimately on the Turner plantation. The Uncle Remus of the stories is eighty years old, but still moves and speaks with the vigour of youth.

He had always exercised authority over his fellow-servants. He had been the captain of the corn-pile, the stoutest at the logrolling, the swiftest with the hoe, the neatest with the plough, and the plantation hands still looked upon him as their leader.1

His life spanned three distinct and widely divergent periods; he had looked out upon three worlds—the South before the war, the South during the war, and the South after the war. He is tenderly cared for by his former owners, ‘Mars John

1 Nights with Uncle Remus, p. 400.

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