Uncle Remus and Bre'r Rabbit

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

MR. RABBIT NIBBLES UP THE BUTTER, retold by Julius Lester

Reading time: (4 minutes)

Here is another story that you may have encountered previously, the adventure of the jackal and the hedgehog and the butter in the Africa section, Anansi and Tiger and the butter in the Jamaica section, or the cat and mouse in partnership in the Brothers Grimm. In this case, the story is told about three animals: Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Possum. You won't be surprised that Brer Rabbit manages to trick the other animals... but you may be surprised at what happens to poor Brer Possum...

The more time the animals spent with each other, the more they liked it. They got to liking each other so much that Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Possum decided to live together. Don't know what their wives and children thought about it. They probably didn't mind since Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Possum was never at home nohow. Everything was going along fine until the roof sprung a leak. The first sunny day Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Possum got out the ladder, the hammers and nails, and climbed up on the roof. They took their lunch with 'em so they wouldn't have to waste time climbing down to eat at lunchtime. But they realized that the butter would melt in the sun, so they went and put it in the well to keep it nice and cool.

They hadn't been working long before Brer Rabbit began thinking about that butter. His stomach started growling like a cat getting ready to fight. He was hammering and nailing when all of a sudden he jumped up and yelled, 'Here I am! What you want with me?" Off he went like somebody was calling him.

Brer Fox and Brer Possum watched him go off through the woods and wondered what was wrong. Brer Rabbit hid behind a tree and when he saw them go back to working, he sneaked over to the well, whacked off a pat of butter and ate it. Then he went on back.

"Where you been?" Brer Fox wanted to know.

"Oh, I heard my children calling and I had to go see about them. My wife done took sick."

A half hour passed. The memory of that butter began to work on Brer Rabbit's mind, not to mention his stomach. He raised his head, his ears shot up real straight, and he hollered, "Hold on! I'm coming!" Down the ladder he went.

This time he stayed away a little longer, and when he came back, Brer Fox asked, 'How's your wife?"

"Mighty low. Mighty low."

Brer Rabbit didn't work more than fifteen minutes when he was off again. He didn't leave the well this time until the butter was all gone. When he got back to the roof he was feeling mighty good.

"How's your wife?" Brer Possum asked.

"She dead," answered Brer Rabbit, with a sorrowful look.

Brer Possum and Brer Fox felt mighty bad. They decided to stop work, eat lunch, and try to make Brer Rabbit feel better. Brer Fox laid out the food and sent Brer Possum to the well to get the butter.

In a few minutes Brer Possum came back all out of breath, "Hey, y'all! Better come quick! All the butter is gone!"

"Gone where?" Brer Fox wanted to know.

"Just done dried up."

Brer Rabbit grunted. "Dried up in somebody's mouth, I bet."

They went to the well, and sure enough, no butter. Brer Rabbit starts looking at the ground real close, like he's Sherlock Holmes or somebody. "I see tracks. If the two of you go to sleep, I can find out who ate the butter."

Brer Possum and Brer Fox went to sleep. Brer Rabbit took the butter left on his paws and smeared it on Brer Possum's mouth. Then he went back to the roof, ate the lunch, came back, and woke Brer Fox.

"There's the butter," he said, pointing to Brer Possum's mouth. "He was the one you sent for the butter, wasn't he? He was the first one down here. Couldn't be nobody else but him."

They woke Brer Possum and Brer Fox accused him of eating up the butter. Naturally, Brer Possum denied everything. But Brer Fox pointed to the evidence around Brer Possum's mouth.

Brer Possum kept pleading his innocence. Finally, he had an idea. "I know how we can catch the one who really did it. Build a fire and everybody try to jump over it. The one that falls in is the once what stole the butter."

They built the fire high and they built the fire wide, and when it was going good, the test began. Brer Rabbit was first, and quite naturally, he leaped over the fire so high he didn't even feel the heat. Next came Brer Fox. He got a good running start and managed to make it over, but it was so close that his tail caught on fire. That's why to this day the underside of a fox's tail is white.

Last to go was Brer Possum. He got a good running start, jumped, and - wham! - landed right in the middle of the fire. That was the end of Brer Possum.

I know it don't seem right, since Brer Possum didn't have a thing to do with the disappearance of the butter. But that's the way of the world. Lots of people suffer for other folks' sins. And I could tell you a thing or two about that if I had a mind to.

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

  • why did Brer Rabbit keep pretending to be called back home to visit his sick wife?
  • how did Brer Rabbit convince Brer Fox that Brer Possum had eaten the butter?
  • what happened when each of them tried to jump over the fire?

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