Editor's Commentary to "Miss Cow Falls a Victim to Mr. Rabbit"


In this tale, Brer Rabbit tricks Miss Cow in order to steal her milk for his family. Harris gives the reader the background information of the interaction between Brer Rabbit and Miss Cow--namely that Miss Cow has been miserly with her milk and has even refused Brer Rabbit's plea for milk to nurse his sick wife. This tale also gives the reader a very conflicted reading of Brer Rabbit. When he first approaches Miss Cow, he is weak with thirst and we are able to sympathize with his need for the milk . However, when he tricks Miss Cow into butting her horns into the tree and getting stuck in order to milk her dry, we aren't quite sure what to make of his actions. If he'd taken enough milk to refresh himself and moved on, we might be able to understa nd his behavior. However, the fact that he takes so much more than is actually needed (so much more, in fact, that he must call on his family to help him transport it) makes him seem greedy and malicious. Our opinion shifts when Miss Cow tries to trick Brer Rabbit so that she may trap him and make him answer to his treatment of her. Despite what we might think about his actions in milking her dry, we admire his cunning in eluding her.

The story also has an interesting racial interpretation. We can interpret Miss Cow as the privileged white society matron with enough to feed herself and others. Brer Rabbit can be interpreted as the black character who works hard and still finds it d ifficult to provide enough for his large family. In this fashion, the miserly qualities of Miss Cow assume a negative connotation, while the reader sympathizes with Brer Rabbit's efforts to provide for his family. This interpretation shows a stark dispa rity between the material wealth of white society and the economic oppression of black society. However, when Brer Rabbit traps Miss Cow and milks her dry, the reader can interpret the act as a bodily violation of Miss Cow by Brer Rabbit--a rape of sorts . This idea of a white woman's violation by a black man was a recurring fear in Southern society--the lynching of Emmet Till in the 1960's resulted from a white woman's claims that the fourteen- year old Till had looked at her "lustfully." The violation of a woman in Southern society typically engendered a response from her husband or a male member of her family, as was the case in the lynching of Emmet Till. In this tale, Miss Cow enlists the aid of her spouse, Brer Bull, in order to capture Brer Rabb it. While it is difficult for the reader to admire Brer Rabbit's actions in stealing all of Miss Cow's milk, the reader supports his cunning in eluding Brer Bull and Miss Cow. In this way, the tale takes on a larger role in documenting the racial dynamics of Southern society.


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