Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Harris’s attempt to reproduce the dialect in which he heard these stories told presents a literary hurdle for some readers. When read aloud, however, the story is clear and sensible. The oral nature of the story is also emphasized by the frame in which it is set: the old man telling stories to a young boy who asks questions at the beginning and end of the tale. The genres of the animal fable and the trickster tale, common in West African storytelling, are adapted to, and reflective of, the social experience and the anger of the African American slave. Because this anger is so violently expressed in this story, the double barrier of the dialect and the framework of the storytelling situation protects the reader from the horror of Mr. Fox’s sad fate. Harris further tempers the effect by continuing to speculate on what eventually happened to Brer Rabbit and Widow Fox.

There are few realistic touches in this story; instead, the plot borrows from the supernatural as the rabbit and the fox climb into the mouth of the willing cow, Bookay, in order to cut away pieces of beef. This “unreality” also softens the implication of cannibalism in Brer Rabbit’s revenge. Although humorous in presentation, “The Sad Fate of Mr. Fox” is a serious and rather grim tale for the end of the first published collection of Uncle Remus tales. The specter of malicious mischief out of control may explain why this story did not achieve the degree of popularity of others such as “The Wonderful Tar-Baby.”