The History of Brer Rabbit

Brer Rabbit

Brer Rabbit is a character in folktales of African-American and Native American origin. He’s known as a “trickster” character, but it’s more like he’s sly and smart instead of conniving.

In folklore, the animal trickster represents an extreme form of behavior which people may be forced to use in extreme circumstances in order to survive.

Brer Rabbit is representative of how a smaller, weaker, but more clever force can overcome a larger, stronger, but less clever power. He continually outsmarts his bigger animal rivals, Brer Fox, Brer Wolf, and Brer Bear.

Author Joel Chandler Harris used and popularized these characters in his series of Uncle Remus tales. One of the most well-known Brer Rabbit tales is a story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Brer Fox has been trying and trying to trap the rabbit and finally discovers a way to do it. He sets up a tar “baby,” and when Brer Rabbit encounters it, mayhem ensues.

The rabbit becomes stuck to the tar baby and the more he fights against it, the more stuck he becomes—that alone could be a lesson for readers. But it doesn’t stop there. Brer Rabbit manages to trick the fox into throwing him into a briar patch. It sounds like a horrible punishment—at least that’s what we think at first. But, the rabbit has lived his life in the briar patch, so he easily works his way free.

Though the Uncle Remus stories were written in the late 1800s, the stories of the “trickster” rabbit go back centuries in time and will be passed along for centuries more. Brer Rabbit will continue to triumph and get into and out of sticky situations by outsmarting his foes.