Google full text of our books:


The Tar Baby:
A Global History
Bryan Wagner

Hardcover | 2017 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691172637
280 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 12 halftones.
Add to Shopping Cart

eBook | ISBN: 9781400885619 |
Our eBook editions are available from these online vendors

Reviews | Table of Contents
Chapter 1[PDF] pdf-icon

A richly nuanced cultural history of an enigmatic and controversial folktale

Perhaps the best-known version of the tar baby story was published in 1880 by Joel Chandler Harris in Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, and popularized in Song of the South, the 1946 Disney movie. Other versions of the story, however, have surfaced in many other places throughout the world, including Nigeria, Brazil, Corsica, Jamaica, India, and the Philippines. The Tar Baby offers a fresh analysis of this deceptively simple story about a fox, a rabbit, and a doll made of tar and turpentine, tracing its history and its connections to slavery, colonialism, and global trade.

Bryan Wagner explores how the tar baby story, thought to have originated in Africa, came to exist in hundreds of forms on five continents. Examining its variation, reception, and dispersal over time, he argues that the story is best understood not merely as a folktale but as a collective work in political philosophy. Circulating at the same time and in the same places as new ideas about property and politics developed in colonial law and political economy, the tar baby comes to embody an understanding of the interlocking processes by which custom was criminalized, slaves were captured, and labor was bought and sold.

Compellingly argued and ambitious in scope, the book concludes with twelve versions of the story transcribed from various cultures in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Bryan Wagner is associate professor in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Disturbing the Peace: Black Culture and the Police Power after Slavery.


"A lively . . . piece of cultural detective work exploring the history of the tar baby."--Library Journal


"A remarkably rich and wide-ranging book that draws on many histories, geographies, and disciplines in exploring one of the nation's--and the world's--most disturbing but strangely elusive racial stories."--Eric J. Sundquist, author of King's Dream: The Legacy of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' Speech

"Exhaustively researched, meticulously argued, and elegantly written, Bryan Wagner's The Tar Baby places Brer Rabbit and the gang at the very heart of an investigation that both illuminates the intricacies of the tar baby and exposes it to an uncustomary broadening of the scope and range of its meanings. Wagner's tar baby is not one we know; his account opens a wider horizon of persuasions and alignments that interrogate the onset of capitalism and the disorienting experience of early globalization."--Hortense J. Spillers, author of Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture

"Superb scholarship with original, compelling interpretation. Wagner has brought the tar baby story under the light and into the vocabulary of current theory."--W. T. Lhamon, Jr., author of Jump Jim Crow: Lost Plays, Lyrics, and Street Prose of the First Atlantic Popular Culture

"A pioneering intervention into terrain conventionally marked off for folkloric and pop-culture exploration. Wagner wields the tools of contemporary critical theory, transnational American studies, and African American studies with admirable aplomb."--John S. Wright, author of Shadowing Ralph Ellison

Table of Contents:

Prologue ix
1 Ideas Of Culture 1
2 States Of Nature 20
3 Sticking Fast 51
4 Say My Name 74
5 The Briar Patch 90
Epilogue 114
Twelve Examples 126
Acknowledgments 169
Notes 171
Select Bibliography 245
Index 257

Subject Areas:

Shopping Cart options:

  • For ebooks:

Our eBook editions are available
from these online vendors:

  • Amazon Kindle Store
  • Apple iBooks
  • Kobo eBook Store
  • Many of our ebooks are available through
    library electronic resources including these platforms:

  • Books at JSTOR
  • Ebrary
  • Ebook Library
  • EBSCO Ebooks
  • MyiLibrary
  • Dawsonera (UK)

    • For hardcover/paperback orders in United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, and Australia

     Hardcover : $29.95 ISBN: 9780691172637

    Add to shopping cart
    View contents of your shopping cart

    • For hardcover/paperback orders in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan

     Hardcover  £24.95 ISBN: 9780691172637

    Add to shopping cart
    View contents of your shopping cart

    Prices subject to change without notice

    File created: 7/11/2017

    Questions and comments to:
    Princeton University Press

    New Book E-mails
    New In Print
    PUP Blog
    Princeton APPS
    Sample Chapters
    Princeton Legacy Library
    Exam/Desk Copy
    Recent Awards
    Princeton Shorts
    Freshman Reading
    PUP Europe
    About Us
    Contact Us
    PUP Home

    Bookmark and Share 
    Send me emails
    about new books in:
    Literature: Primary Works And Letters
    World History / Comparative History
    Comparative Literature
    More Choices