May: The Tricksters Week #2
This week we are working with the Trickster Rabbit. The tale we have chosen is from Africa, “‘Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.” This beloved story became well-known and popular after Walt Disney made the movie “The Song of the South.” In the story, Brer Rabbit out-smarts Br’er Fox by convincing him that being thrown into the Briar Patch would be the cruelest, meanest, and most horrific death anyone could suffer.
Since Fox despises Br’er Rabbit, he can’t wait to toss him into the brambles. Br’er Fox is caught up in the imagery of sharp thorns and twisted tangles. He has forgotten the fact that Br’er Rabbit was born and raised in the Briar patch. So, in the end Br’er Rabbit is able to out “fox” the fox.
Another very popular Rabbit Trickster we all know and love is Warner Bros. cartoon character, Bugs Bunny. Bugs is a wonderful Trickster. He is always out smarting, tricking, and making a fool of Elmer Fudd, who is determined to catch the silly “wabbit” and eat him.
The idea that the obsessive predator ends up hurting himself more than the pry is funny. When the pry out-smarts the predator, it reminds us that life is complicated and not always predictable. In the Trickster Stories we know that the victim will be in serious danger; a huge rock is falling directly above his head, and we know that somehow, someway the victim will escape unharmed. But how? This is the part I love, at the very last-minute, it happens, the victim escapes danger. I’m surprised by the interception and the way the story goes sideways. I love that danger is foiled. I am delighted that the underdog wins. I realize that thinking sideways and outside the expected opens up new possibilities. I always admire the predator’s perseverance. I love the prey’s cleverness and laugh at the surprise appearance of the unforeseen.
There is a story called “Coyote fights a Lump of Pitch,” told by the White Mountain Apache that is very similar to Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Once again, the prey out-smarts the predator. (You can read the full tales by clicking on them under Monthly Tales shown on the Menu above.)
In my collage, Br’er Rabbit is greeting the Tar Baby. Trickster Rabbit thinks of himself as a sociable fellow, gracious enough to bless others with a kind word or two. When Tar Baby doesn’t reply, Br’er Rabbit is taken aback. Doesn’t Tar Baby realize who has greeted him? Doesn’t he know that he is in the presence of Br’er Rabbit? How dare he be rude.
On the other hand, Br’er Rabbit did put himself out there, sort of extended a hand in friendship, why is the Tar Baby ignoring his greeting? The message in this exchange is that when you greet someone and they do not respond in kind it may have nothing to do with you. In a way, this exchange, or lack there of, is a reminder to us all that you shouldn’t take other peoples rudeness personally, after all, Tar Baby didn’t speak because he was a “Tar Baby”.
I don’t know if you’ve experienced the feeling of being ignored by someone you’ve reached out to, but I certainly have. It causes negative feelings to rear their ugly heads. When it happened to me I remember feeling both embarrassed and very annoyed. Br’er Rabbit’s reaction to the Tar Baby feels familiar. However, what is different about Br’er Rabbit’s reactions and mine are, I would not punch, kick, sock or head-butt anyone. I probably would have my feeling hurt and go off pouting while grumbling and carping all the way.
There are many sayings that this folktale embraces. For an example … I have felt tarred and feathered … I have out foxed a fox … I’ve been in thorny situations … I can get very stuck and I have come-up with ideas that have saved the day. How about you?