Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 404

The violence in this story is startling. In contrast to stories such as “The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story,” “The Sad Fate of Mr. Fox” seems harsh and unexpected. The understatement of the word “sad” is gravely humorous, and the moral advice found in many of the other tales is reduced here to Phineas Taylor Barnum’s epitaph for suckers: “There’s one born every minute.” Certainly one is appalled by the fate of Mr. Fox. Joel Chandler Harris’s story, however, does not stop with the horror of the fox’s head in his wife’s stew pot. He goes on to detail the incredible stupidity of the widow and her son as they try in vain to capture the clever rabbit. What does this reveal about the characters and the worldview of Uncle Remus?

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There is no doubt that it is the persona of the black slave, in the guise of the physically weak but clever rabbit, that escapes from the clutches of the more powerful, but slow-witted, foxes, which are obvious symbols of the dominating white man. Indeed, escape is not enough; Brer Rabbit seeks and finds revenge. However, the story does not celebrate death or revenge; it is a story of survival, the survival of the feisty spirit of Brer Rabbit. Although the main characters, Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit, seem to cooperate, there is no compromise. Even though they share the same beef, there is no honest connection or communion between them. Thus, Brer Rabbit has no qualms about betraying the fox. Revenge is sweet, no matter how horrible it may seem to the outsider. No matter how sad the fate of Mr. Fox may seem, this story is not tragic; the foolishness of the foxes is funny. Nor is the narrator a grim applauder of cruelty and trickery, for he himself would not do the terrible things that the characters do. He further distances himself from the reality of the story by suggesting that there are several optional conclusions for the irrepressible Brer Rabbit.

“The Sad Fate of Mr. Fox” reveals more clearly than some of the other tales the depth of anger that the slave felt against white society—a society made up of “foxes” and “wolves” who maintained the power, the money, and the status that could never be his. The moral of this fable may simply be a warning: In an unfair world, only the clever survive.

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