The Briar Patch

When we talked about the Uncle Remus stories in class and the association with the briar patch, it was not my first experience with the tales of Br’er Rabbit. All of my prior knowledge of the stories came from a ride at Disney World called Splash Mountain. Splash Mountain is based on the Disney Movie Song of the South which is based on the Uncle Remus stories. The ride even contains a large briar patch that a log flume plummets into. Just before this happens, the animatronic rabbit tells br’er fox, just as in the original story, “hang me if you gotta! But please, please don’t fling me in that briar patch!” and then mirroring the story further, br’er rabbit survives because as was said in the original story, he “was bred and born in the briar patch“. After reading the Syl Anagist sections of The Stone Sky my perception towards the amusement park ride was drastically altered, and I began to look at the troubling link between the tuners and the story of br’er rabbit. 

In a prior post of mine, I discussed the connection towards home many families feel during natural disasters and why it is hard to leave these locations even when facing impending destruction. While looking at the story of br’er rabbit and the briar patch and the script to Splash Mountain I began to see the darker side of a strong connection to home. The general story that Splash Mountain follows as a log flume carries passengers through the ride is that Br’er Rabbit has “had enough of this ol’ briar patch” and seeks to leave his home for something greater. While looking for adventure, he is pursued by Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear who attempt to catch the rabbit. From the start, it is portrayed as a bad idea for Br’er Rabbit to leave his home as another character warns “Careful, Br’er Rabbit, better mend your ways. You’re headed for trouble one of these days! Warnin’ this rabbit, I’m afraid, is a waste“. Eventually, Br’er Rabbit is caught, flung into the briar patch, and comes out safe because it is his home. The ride ends with Br’er Rabbit claiming “born and bred in the briar patch, and I’m here to stay!”.

After reading about the briar patch in The Stone Sky I found the story of Br’er Rabbit extremely problematic. A briar patch by nature is something painful and unforgiving. A connection can be made between a briar patch and the constant oppression of a group of people due to the pain associated with the briar patch. Br’er Rabbit trying to leave his home can be read as symbolic of trying to break free of this painful home. The rabbit wants to leave the home, after all, to pursue something else. By ending the original story and the Disney ride itself with Br’er Rabbit being content that his punishment was being thrown back to a home he had previously tried to leave seems to signify a contentedness with oppression. Just because Br’er Rabbit is accustomed to the briar patch does not mean it is a victory to be returned to this fate. Being desensitized to oppression and pain may make it easier to endure the oppression, but the pursuit of a better life should not be abandoned to remain in a familiar, problematic place.

Jemisin takes this classic story and morphs it to both represent the briar patch as the place of oppression it truly is and also to remove the negative stigma attached to it. Hoa and the other tuners were previously told the briar patch was a place to be “retired” to and where they “could still serve the project indirectly”. Since the tuners were repeatedly told they were tools, being sent somewhere where they can continue to be tools does not come across as a punishment. It is only when they actually see what the briar patch is, an inhumane method of literally sucking the life out of people for the project, that they realize the depravity of what is being done to them. The tuners have technically lived their whole lives as tools so they should be accustomed to life as a tool if the conductors are correct in treating the tuners as non-human. Jemisin makes sure to immediately dismiss any notion that the tuners may have any desire to continue to be used as tools, or sent to the metaphorical briar patch of an oppression they know. Instead, they “begin, at last, to plan”. The briar patch in The Stone Sky represents a refusal to return to a home filled with oppression as Br’er Rabbit does. Instead, seeing the briar patch for what it really is awakens the tuners and causes them to plan their revenge. There is no contentedness in seeing or being in the briar patch, and the oppression associated with the briar patch is used as a catalyst to begin rebellion, rather than serving as a known comfort.

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