Uncle Remus and Bre'r Rabbit

Week 14: American Tales - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

THE WONDERFUL TAR BABY STORY, retold by Julius Lester

Reading time: (3 minutes)

You may have read the Tar-Baby story in the Jamaican stories about Anansi the trickster, or the Cherokee story about the rabbit and the tar wolf. You will read this story in two different versions: the first version is re-telling by Julius Lester, who uses more-or-less standard English, and who also eliminates the frametale of the black storyteller Uncle Remus telling stories to an eager little white boy. The story actually comes in two parts: how the Brer Fox catches Brer Rabbit... later, you will read the second part, when Brer Rabbit manages to get away.

Early one morning, even before Sister Moon had put on her negligee, Brer Fox was up and moving around. He had a glint in his eye, so you know he was up to no good.

He mixed up a big batch of tar and made it into the shape of a baby. By the time he finished, Brer Sun was yawning himself awake and peeping one eye over the topside of the earth.

Brer Fox took his Tar Baby down to the road, the very road Brer Rabbit walked along every morning. He sat the Tar Baby in the road, put a hat on it, and then hid in a ditch.

He had scarcely gotten comfortable (as comfortable as one can get in a ditch), before Brer Rabbit came strutting along like he owned the world and was collecting rent from everybody in it.

Seeing the Tar Baby, Brer Rabbit tipped his hat. "Good morning! Nice day, ain't it? Of course, any day I wake up and find I'm still alive is a nice day far as I'm concerned." He laughed at his joke, which he thought was pretty good. (Ain't too bad if I say so myself.)

Tar Baby don't say a word. Brer Fox stuck his head up out of the ditch, grinning.

"You deaf?" Brer Rabbit asked the Tar Baby. "If you are, I can talk louder." He yelled, "How are you this morning? Nice day, ain't it?"

Tar Baby still don't say nothing.

Brer Rabbit was getting kinna annoyed. "I don't know what's wrong with this young generation. Didn't your parents teach you no manners?"

Tar Baby don't say nothing.

"Well, I reckon I'll teach you some!" He hauls off and hits the Tar Baby. BIP! And his fist was stuck to the side of the Tar Baby's face.

"You let me go!" Brer Rabbit yelled. "Let me go or I"ll really pop you one." He twisted and turned but he couldn't get loose. "All right! I warned you!" And he smacked the Tar Baby on the other side of its head. BIP! His other fist was stuck.

Brer Rabbit was sho' nuf' mad now. "You turn me loose or I'll make you wish you'd never been born." THUNK! He kicked the Tar Baby and his foot was caught. He was cussing and carrying on something terrible and kicked the Tar Baby with the other foot and THUNK! That foot was caught. "You let me go or I'll butt you with my head." He butted the Tar Baby under the chin and THUNK! His head was stuck.

Brer Fox sauntered out of the ditch just as cool as the sweat on the side of a glass of ice tea. He looked at Brer Rabbit stuck to the Tar Baby and laughed until he was almost sick.

"Well, I got you now, " Brer Fox said when he was able to catch his breath. "You floppy-eared, pom-pom-tailed good-for-nothing! I guess you know who's having rabbit for dinner this night!"

Brer Rabbit would've turned around and looked at him if he could've unstuck his head. Didn't matter. He heard the drool in Brer Fox's voice and knew he was in a world of trouble.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why did Brer Fox make the Tar Baby?
  • what happened when Brer Rabbit wanted to talk to the Tar Baby?
  • what does Brer Fox say he is going to do with Brer Rabbit now that he has him trapped?

Source: Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales, by Julius Lester. Phyllis Fogelman Books: New York. 1999.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM