My friend Carmen introduced me to the children’s book Flossie and the Fox after I told her about my interest in cautionary tales about the dangers associated with becoming distracted. It was a great recommendation. Here’s the story: Flossie’s grandmother charges her with the task of delivering eggs to a friend at a neighboring plantation. Flossie’s grandmother warns her that a hungry, slick, egg loving fox is on the loose and to be mindful of him. Flossie has never encountered a fox before and doesn’t even know what one looks like. In response, her grandmother resists offering a thorough portrait; instead, she gives Flossie information that on the surface doesn’t seem very helpful, “Chile, a fox be just a fox,” is what she tells her before sending her off with two instructions: 1.) don’t dawdle, 2.) protect those eggs.
The charge given to young Flossie in light of the circumstances places this story in a world far beyond the boundaries of our own. Flossie and her grandmother live in a world where danger is inevitable. Since Flossie’s grandmother wasn’t trying to shield Flossie from danger, a contemporary reader might be led to conclude that her grandmother was essentially feeding that child to the wolves. Not only was Flossie sent out into the world with a cunning foe on the loose, she was sent with goods most likely to entice him. How is this love?
Flossie worries about her fate, as we would as contemporary readers, but it is through the way she processes her anxiety that we come to understand her grandmother’s love. “What if I come upon a fox?” Flossie wonders before remembering her grandmother’s words, “Oh well,” she thinks, “a fox be just a fox.” In other words, a threat is just a threat–it can take on any number of guises; it is nearly impossible to capture for a child just what that looks like. Too, a threat does not amount to its conclusion. Flossie’s grandmother sends her on a mission where she has a chance of flourishing. To flourish, Flossie’s grandmother tells her that she will need to be efficient and show great care. Flossie decides that she can confront the unknown and not be ruled by her fears.
While on the way to deliver “Miz Viola” the eggs, Flossie does indeed encounter the fox, and the way that she deals with this encounter offers a model for facing the world:
1.) Embrace the wisdom of your ancestors. Flossie does not dismiss her grandmother’s description of the fox as a failing; instead, she decides that her grandmother passed on useful information.
2.) Commit to a productive strategy. When Fox introduces himself to Flossie, she decides to tell him that she “just purely [doesn’t] believe it.” As Flossie continues to move along, Fox shifts his focus from the eggs Flossie carries to trying to convince her of his identity as a fox.
3.) Be aware of your authority to decide your identity. You are not responsible for other people’s expectations of who you are. At one point, Fox tells Flossie that “a little girl like you should be simply terrified of me.” Flossie disrupts Fox’s plan for terrorizing her because she rejected his vision of who she was and placed her authority in her own ability to name herself.
If you get a chance, read Flossie and the Fox. That little girl offers “a model by which to live.”