Brer Rabbit is the main character in the Uncle Remus tales that were written by Joel Chandler Harris, who was an American journalist, fiction writer, and folklorist. Uncle Remus was an African American fictional narrator who told stories about Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and other animals while interweaving his own philosophy into the tales.
While Harris made Brer Rabbit a more popular character in the American conscious, he did not create Brer Rabbit. Rather, Brer Rabbit was a trickster figure that originated in African Folklore, and was transmitted by African slaves to the New World. As a trickster figure, Brer Rabbit would continually outsmart bigger and stronger animals such as Brer Fox, Brer Wolf, and Brer Bear. Brer Rabbit would continuously use his quick-thinking and wit to overcome the other animals.
Brer Rabbit & the tar baby
The most popular tale of Brer Rabbit is that of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. In this story, Brer Fox, hoping to capture Brer Rabbit, mixes tar and turpentine to create a doll-like figure that he calls the tar baby. Brer Rabbit happens upon the tar baby and greets it but when the baby doesn’t respond, Brer Rabbit attempts to fight the tar baby. The more that Brer Rabbit fights the tar baby, the more entangled he becomes, until he is finally so entangled that he can’t even move. It is at this point that Brer Fox captures Brer Rabbit.
Brer Fox takes Brer Rabbit back to his lair and, as he’s wondering just how to rid himself of Brer Rabbit once and for all, Brer Rabbit responds:
“Do anything you want with me – roas’ me, hang me, skin me, drown me – but please, Br’er Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch,”
Brer Fox does just what Brer Rabbit has asked him not to do, and he brings Brer Rabbit to the briar patch (which is a thick bush of thorny plants) and tosses in the rabbit into the patch. After landing in the briar patch, Brer Rabbit turns around and tells Brer Fox that he (Brer Rabbit) was born and bred in the briar patch. He then proceeds to take off, escaping from the fox’s clutches.
Among the other tales of Brer Rabbit are:
- Brer Rabbit Falls down the Well: Brer Rabbit tricks Brer Fox again, this time into rescuing him from the bottom of a well into which he had fallen.
- Brer Rabbit Earns a Dollar-A-Minute: Rabbit gets caught in a trap while trying to steal peas from Brer Fox’s garden. He then convinces Brer Bear to free him and take his place in the trap by telling the bear that he’s there to earn money to scare away crows.
- Brer Fools Sis Cow: Brer Rabbit tricks Sis Cow into giving him and his family milk during a hot summer day.