Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540
“The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story” is only one of the many tales that Uncle Remus tells Miss Sally’s son, but it is perhaps the most loved and most remembered. The story begins with the boy asking whether Brer Rabbit ever gets caught. Uncle Remus proceeds to recount one of the wiley rabbit’s closest calls.
His nemesis, Brer Fox, still smarting over being fooled again by Brer Rabbit, mixes tar and turpentine to make a tar-baby. He sets his creation, which indeed looks like a little black figure wearing a hat, beside the road and hides himself in the bushes not far away. Soon Brer Rabbit comes walking down the road and stops in his tracks when he sees the tar-baby. He speaks to it, asks it questions, accuses it of being hard-of-hearing and impolite, and finally yells at it. The tar-baby, of course, says nothing, and Brer Fox stays hidden in the bushes, chuckling quietly to himself. Losing his temper, Brer Rabbit hits the tar-baby, first with one fist, then the other. With both hands stuck in the tar, he kicks it with both feet, getting them stuck as well. In desperation, he butts it with his head, which also sticks firmly in the soft tar. Now Brer Fox emerges from the bushes, laughing so hard at Brer Rabbit’s plight that he rolls on the ground.
At this point, Uncle Remus stops his tale to remove a large yam from the ashes. When the boy asks if the fox ate the rabbit, he tells him that the story does not say exactly, although some say that Brer B’ar came along and released the rabbit. Anxious readers will be relieved to know that this dilemma is resolved in a later story, “How Mr. Rabbit Was Too Sharp for Mr. Fox,” and that Brer Rabbit does indeed escape.
This second installment with its resolution to the first is often considered an integral part of “The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story” and, thus, should be summarized here as well. Uncle Remus begins by indicting Brer Rabbit as a scoundrel, mixed up in all kinds of shady business. He rejoins the tar-baby story as Brer Fox gleefully celebrates his capture of the wiley rabbit with the help of the still silent tar-baby. He then tries to decide how to kill him. He considers the merits of barbecuing, hanging, drowning, and skinning. Brer Rabbit professes to be in favor of any of these solutions so long as the fox does not throw him into the nearby brier patch. This reverse psychology finally sinks in, and the fox, wanting to do whatever Brer Rabbit would hate the most, flings him by his hind legs into the middle of the brier patch. A few minutes later, the unscathed rabbit jeers from the hill, “Bred en bawn in a brier-patch, Brer Fox—bred en bawn in a brier-patch.” He cheerfully leaves the scene. Reading these two stories together gives a sense of completion and closure both for Miss Sally’s son and the reader. “The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story” and “How the Rabbit Was Too Sharp for Mr. Fox” allow Brer Rabbit to fool Brer Fox once again, an important theme in almost all the Uncle Remus tales.