Folktales > Tar Baby

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The Tar Baby show notes

Narrator: Long, long ago in the Deep South, the Rabbit was the king of the tricksters. He was always playing tricks on the other animals, and getting the better of them. One animal that he tricked many times was the Fox, who wanted to eat the Rabbit. But the Rabbit always got away. And then one day the Fox said…

Fox: Hmmm… I have a brilliant idea. I heard a little story from Africa about how someone trapped that spider fellow by making a little dummy out of sticky sap from a gum tree. We don't have any African gum trees around these parts, but we do have tar. So I can pit my wits against his.

Narrator: So the Fox gathered up some tar, and he slapped it into the shape of a little man. Or a child. And he put clothes on it, including a big floppy hat to hide the little man's face.

Fox: There, my little baby. He looks just like a real boy. Maybe if I wish upon a star… nah, forget it. I'll just place it beside the road, and then hide in the bushes and wait for the Rabbit to hop along by. Heh heh heh.

Narrator: Soon, Mr. Rabbit did come hopping along, and he saw the Fox's tar baby.

Fox reading Aesop Fables

Rabbit: I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. Oh, howdy there, young fella.

Narrator: But of course the Tar Baby didn't answer.

Rabbit: I said, hello, friend.

Narrator: But of course, there was still no answer.

Rabbit: Yoo-hoo! I'm talking to you!

Narrator: But nobody answered except crickets.

Rabbit: Don't just ignore me, buddy. That's very rude.

Narrator: And the Tar Baby kept right on being rude.

Rabbit: What, you think you're too good to talk to me or something?

Narrator: The Tar Baby kept right on being too good.

Rabbit: Listen, runt. You'd better say good morning to me, or I'm going to start getting annoyed.

Narrator: The Tar Baby went right on letting the Rabbit get annoyed.

Rabbit: Are you awake? Did you fall asleep out here in the sun, where the bears and foxes and mosquitoes can eat you up? Answer me!

Narrator: And he grabbed the Tar Baby by the shoulder and shook it. But the Tar Baby did not wake up.

Rabbit: Wake up, wake up! Hey, what's going on? Let go of my hand.

Narrator: But the Tar Baby did not let go of his hand. So he grabbed it with the other hand.

Rabbit: I warned you, you little – hey, let go of that hand instead. I mean in addition to. Let go of both of my hands right now, or I'm going to kick you. I mean it. Okay, you asked for it.

Narrator: So the rabbit kicked the Tar Baby. And you probably can guess what happened then.

Rabbit: Hey, let go of my foot. How many things can you hold onto at once, anyway? You'd better let go of my hands and my foot, or else I'm going to kick you with my other foot harder than you've ever been kicked before. One… two… three!! Hey…

Narrator: And you probably can guess that the Rabbit's other foot became stuck in the tar as well.

Rabbit: So much for rabbit's feet being lucky.

Narrator: And that's when Mr. Fox stepped out of the bushes, laughing and gloating as big as you please.

Fox: Well, well, well. What in tarnation is going on here? (Laughs at his pun.) Looks like you done got yourself into a real sticky situation. (Laughs again.) And this time you won't get away. Because we're going to have rabbit stew for dinner. And you are invited to … stick around. (Laughs heartily.)

Rabbit: Oh Mr. Fox, I wouldn't blame you if you eat me. I've played so many tricks on you, and I'm sure I'd make a delicious rabbit stew – even if there is a hare in it. So eat me if you must. But whatever you do, please don't throw me into that briar patch.

Fox: So… you're not afraid of being eaten, eh? Well then, we'll just have to think of something else. Maybe I'll drown you. Yeah, that's it. That would teach you a lesson you'd never forget.

Rabbit: Oh yes, Mr. Fox, I wouldn’t blame you at all if you drowned me a dozen times, and twice on Sunday. But whatever you do, please please don't throw me into that briar patch.

Fox: Not afraid of drowning either, eh? Well, we'll come up with something even worse. I know… I'll skin you. Yeah, that's what I'll do.

Rabbit: Of course, Mr. Fox. I wouldn't blame you at all if you skinned me, even on the outside. And I probably shouldn't be wearing fur anyway – it promotes animal cruelty. But whatever you do, please please please don't throw me into that briar patch.

Fox: All right, that does it. It's very clear to me that the briar patch is what scares you most. So that's where I'm going to throw you. Here we go… a one… and a two… and alley oop.

Narrator: And with that, the Fox threw the Rabbit right square into the middle of the briar patch.

Rabbit: Oh no, I don't believe you threw me into the briar patch. I don't believe anyone could be that much of a sucker. I love the briar patch. I was born here. I was raised here. I come here to escape my enemies – like you. Neener neener neener!

Fox: What! That silly rabbit tricked me again! Oh silly rabbits are always for tricks. How could I let this happen? Why didn't I think to Google rabbit habitats? And now I gotta get tar off my hands. Get tar? Oh no, make me stop.

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About this Story

The Tar Baby is a classic African-American story from slavery days, inspired by a similar story from Africa, presented especially for Black History Month (February). The Tar Baby is a trickster tale about the Rabbit (often called Brer Rabbit), who is a recurring character in these folktales. The story is a study in irony, because (spoiler alert) first the Rabbit gets into a jam only by putting up too much of a fuss and becoming unnecessarily angry; and then he gets out of it by pretending to fear something he really loves. It's like stepping into quicksand, getting stuck because you struggle too much, and then getting your enemy to help you out of it by convincing him you really don't want out.

@ Your Library

For more African-American Folktales and legendary heroes go to your local library. You will find Folktales in the 398 section (Dewey Decimal System)

Look for more stories about:

  • Brer' Rabbit