Editor's Commentary on "Mr. Rabbit, He's a Good Fisherman"

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When Uncle Remus introduces this tale to the little boy, he explains it as a parallel to the everyday conflicts between children. This idea is an important one in interpreting the text. For Harris, many of these tales were told to him by slaves in Putnam County, Georgia to induce him to good behavior. In this fashion, Harris has duplicated the context in which he heard the tales in his own documentation of the oral tradition.

In this tale, Brer Rabbit decides to nap in the bucket of an old well and is surprised when gravity takes over and sends him to the bottom of the well without any hope of getting out of the situation. Eager to see where Brer Rabbit has gone, Brer Fox follows him to the well. When he sees Brer Rabbit disappear into the depths of the well, he assumes that Brer Rabbit is hiding a secret cache of gold at the bottom of the well. Determined not to be outdone or duped by Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox jumps in the other bucket--plunging himself into the depths of the well and inadvertently saving Brer Rabbit.

Like many of the other tales, this text elicits a complicated interpretation of the different characters. For example, Brer Rabbit falls into trouble (literally) because he has decided to take a nap--a lesson for those who would rather be lazy than industriousness. Similarly, Brer Fox's downfall comes when he becomes more interested in what Brer Rabbit is doing rather than minding his own affairs. If one were to interpret the characters in order to contextualize race relations in the Reconstruction era it would be extremely complicated. Brer rabbit certainly plays into the negative stereotype of the shiftless African-American--a stereotype that Harris would exploit is social commentary sketches featuring Uncle Remus. Nevertheless, Brer Fox is also portrayed in a negative fashion--as a meddling busybody who is too busy being nosy to do anything industrious. Is this an interpretation of the white masters who were frequently involved in the daily affairs of the plantation slaves? Can the tale be used to interpret the interaction between the races on an adult level, or is it simply a moral text like Aesop's Fables, designed to give the younger generation models of good behavior? Harris does not give the reader a concrete answer for either opinion. Instead, he insists that he merely transcribed the tales of a culture--irrespective the subtleties and nuances of the text.


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