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.