WHO IS BR’ER RABBIT?
Br’er Rabbit (deriving from Brother Rabbit), is an African-American folk figure who first appeared in a collection of appropriated folktales from 1881 called Uncle Remus. Br’er Rabbit was a trickster figure who would extricate himself from danger using his wit, often tricking his enemies (i.e. Br’er Fox) into having a violent or ludicrous accident.
WHAT IS A TRICKSTER FIGURE?
A trickster figure is a protagonist (often an anthropomorphized animal) who has some kind of magical or at least heightened ability. Simultaneously an omniscient hero and an innocent fool, a malicious destroyer and a childlike prankster, a trickster figure serves, in a literary sense, as a kind of folkloric scapegoat on which we project our fears, failures and ideals. Br’er Rabbit is a rendition of the African trickster figure Anansi, who was a spider. In Native American folklore, the trickster usually takes the form of a coyote.
BR’ER RABBIT IN THE 20TH CENTURY
Song of the South was a 1946 live-action film with animation produced by Walt Disney. It was an adaptation of Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus, with a character of the same name telling a group of adorable white children with unwarranted jolliness about the adventures of Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox. The film’s portrayal of a dark-faced, apple-cheeked ex-slave is now widely regarded as racist, and consequently the film never received an official VHS or DVD release.
BR’ER RABBIT AND THE TAR BABY
from Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit, 1881
“I’ve got you this time, Brer Rabbit,” said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. “You’ve sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?”
Brer Rabbit’s eyes got very large. “Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”
“Maybe I should roast you over a fire and eat you,” mused Brer Fox. “No, that’s too much trouble. Maybe I’ll hang you instead.”
“Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”
“If I’m going to hang you, I’ll need some string,” said Brer Fox. “And I don’t have any string handy. But the stream’s not far away, so maybe I’ll drown you instead.”
“Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”
“The briar patch, eh?” said Brer Fox. “What a wonderful idea! You’ll be torn into little pieces!”
Grabbing up the tar-covered rabbit, Brer Fox swung him around and around and then flung him head over heels into the briar patch. Brer Rabbit let out such a scream as he fell that all of Brer Fox’s fur stood straight up. Brer Rabbit fell into the briar bushes with a crash and a mighty thump. Then there was silence.
Brer Fox cocked one ear toward the briar patch, listening for whimpers of pain. But he heard nothing. Brer Fox cocked the other ear toward the briar patch, listening for Brer Rabbit’s death rattle. He heard nothing.
Then Brer Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. Brer Rabbit was sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug.
“I was born and bred in the briar patch, Brer Fox,” he called. “Born and bred in the briar patch.”
And Brer Rabbit skipped away as merry as a cricket while Brer Fox ground his teeth in rage and went home.