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Mammies and Uncles of the South:
The Subversive Tales
of Joel Chandler Harris and Kate Chopin



Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi, Romania


The aim of this essay is to look at Southern racism from a different perspective, namely the subversive influence of the black uncles and mammies, depicted as kind, loyal and caring, in the racial education of the white Southern children. However, these narrators, though meant to comply with the racist requirements of their masters, take control of the stories and, with caution and dissimulation, attempt to educate the children they care for towards a more tolerant outlook on race. The dangers of such an endeavor, especially at the height of segregation and racial violence at the end of the nineteenth century (in the post-Reconstruction South), are evident in the ambiguous critical reception of Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus stories and Kate Chopin’s writings, the authors chosen for analysis. Oscillating from a belief in their compliance to their age’s prejudices and codes and a trust in their rebellious attitudes, critics and readers reacted to these stories in different, even contradictory manners. Our intention is to demonstrate that the use of the slave narrator is a subversive way of teaching the white child the truth about the plight of slavery and sway him/her into a more empathic attitude towards racial and class difference.


uncle, mammy, Uncle Remus, black narrative, post-Reconstruction literature, children, Joel Chandler Harris, Kate Chopin.