February 08, 2022

#08-185: The Tar Baby

Brer Rabbit attacking the Tar-Baby

Note: The story we know as "The Tar Baby" has over 250 variants in cultures from all over the world; its antecedents go all the way back to ancient India. In 1881, American author Joel Chandler Harris published in his "Uncle Remus" stories this version he had collected in the American South.

Get Ready: Have you ever had a problem that, the harder you tried to fix it, the worse it got?

Brer ("Brother") Rabbit was always playing tricks, and Brer Fox was tired of it. So he mixed some tar with some turpentine and made a little man that he called the "Tar Baby." He dressed it up in some old clothes and a hat and set it by the side of the road. Then he hid in some nearby bushes.

Along came Brer Rabbit--lippity-clippity, clippity-lippity--as sassy as always. When he saw the Tar Baby, though, he stood up on his hind legs, astonished.

"'Mornin'," he says. "Nice weather this mornin'." The Tar Baby, of course, said nothing, and Brer Fox waited.

"Do your symptoms tell you what the weather might be like later?" Brer Rabbit asked. But the Tar Baby still said nothing, and Brer Fox stifled a laugh.

"What's wrong with you?" Brer Rabbit asked. "Are you deaf or something?" Still nothing. "Oh, I know: you're stuck up, that's what you are! Well, I'm going to take care of you!"

Brer Fox could barely keep from laughing when Brer Rabbit continued, "I'll teach you how to speak to respectable folks if it's the last thing I do! If you don't take off that hat and tell me 'Howdy,' I'll bust you wide open!"

Brer Rabbit kept asking and the Tar Baby kept silent and Brer Fox kept trying not to laugh, until finally Brer Rabbit drew back his fist and delivered a punch to the side of the Tar Baby's head. And there it stuck in the tar!

"Let me loose," Brer Rabbit shouted, "or I'll knock you again!" And he did--and his other hand got stuck. Then he used his feet to try to push himself away, and they got stuck. At last, he tried butting the Tar Baby with his head--and now he was stuck on five points!

Brer Fox chose this moment to saunter out of the bushes, looking as innocent as a mockingbird. "'Mornin', Brer Rabbit" he said. "You look sort of stuck up this mornin' yourself!" And he rolled on the ground laughing.

The term "tar baby" has become symbolic for any problem which gets worse the harder we work at it. How Brer Rabbit escaped is a story for another day.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tar-Baby

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. antecedents
  2. astonished
  3. butting
  4. sassy
  5. saunter
  6. stifled
  7. stuck up
  8. tar
  9. turpentine
  10. variants

  1. striking with the head
  2. walk casually
  3. a black, sticky liquid
  4. a material used for mixing things like paint
  5. arrogant; conceited
  6. very surprised; amazed
  7. playfully rude
  8. different versions
  9. things that came before
  10. tried to stop; blocked [a sound]

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 8, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. f; 3. a; 4. g; 5. b; 6. j; 7. e; 8. c; 9. d; 10. h