Our course pack contains readings from two authors in section XI (pp. 267-299), William J. Faulkner and Peter Kolchin. These authors provide different perspectives on slave culture, life, religion and resistance. While Kolchin’s work is scholarly, the excerpts from Faulkner come from the book The Days When the Animals Talked. This is an amazing book of folklore; I have provided a helpful review of Faulkner’s book from Amazon.com to give you a sense of his work:
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the best of its kind, March 16, 2011
Andre M. “brnn64” (Links to an external site.) (Mt. Pleasant, SC United States) –
This review is from: The Days When the Animals Talked: Black American Folktales and How They Came to Be
This is unquestionably hands-down one of the best books ever written on Black American Folklore.
This was where William J. Faulkner (not to be confused with the the Nobel-winning Misssissippian author of the same name) recalled the tales told to him as a child by an ex-slave handyman named Simon Brown in rural South Carolina circa 1900 when the author was about 10 years old.
The title and cover may give you the impression that this is a children’s book. It’s not. Simon Brown’s recollections of slavery (the first half of the book) are often quite raw and similar to the kind of tales told by ex-slaves in the WPA Slave narratives of the 1930s, in regards to beatings, concubinage, and other atrocities. He also delights in telling young Faulkner some tall tales and stories about the religious and social practices of slaves. This is best for about teen age to adults. Faulkner also puts the Brer Rabbit and other animal tales (the second half of the book in the context of being thinly disguised analogies of slaves overcoming masters). The story about Brer Rabbit and the meeting with the long-tailed animals (not found in any of Harris’ Uncle Remus collections) deserves special attention as one of the most simple and brilliant analogies of racial injustice-this is a great wasy to articulate this subject with children!
Faulkner has done his homework and the tales are recorded in an entertaining style.
As with most educated Black writers of the time (Zora Neale Hurston being an important exception), Faulkner eliminates the dialect Simon Brown would have used as he wanted to discourage the use of dialect among schoolchildren (a stance that would horrify the politically correct utopian thought police of today), but the standard English is not unrealistic to the character and does help the stories to read better. This is important because part of the reason Black Folklore is such a lost art today is because most of the best books on the subject (see below) were written in a “Negro Dialect” so thick that ithey are almost unreadable today. In a sense, this book is kind of a flipside to Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus books in that Harris (with rare exceptions such as the opening chapter of “Daddy Jake the Runaway”) tended to show the softer side of slavery.
However, in reading this book, one really envies Faulkner as he graphically describes the joy of listening to an elder regale him with marvelous stories. Those of us who came of age when this was a common experience will truly identify with this, while those who did not will get an idea of what this was like and wish they had the pleasure of such an experience.
I would place this book with other classics of the genre such as Julius Lester’s “Black Folktales,” Edward C.L. Adams’ “Tales of the Congaree,” Ted Poston’s “Dark Side of Hopkinsville,” Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Conjure Woman,” Zora Neale Hurston’s “Mules and Men,” and of course the Harris Brer Rabbit books. Read, think, learn, and enjoy.
Once you have read the excerpts from Faulkner, the review on Amazon, and the Kolchin article, please comment on the following question:
How did slaves use folklore, religion and African practices to create a unique culture under slavery? How powerful and effective do you think culture would have been in the slaves’ efforts to resist the oppression of slavery?