The rabbits who caused all the trouble

by James Thurber

Within the memory of the youngest child there was a family of rabbits who lived near a pack of wolves. The wolves announced that they did not like the way the rabbits were living. (The wolves were crazy about the way they themselves were living, because it was the only way to live.) One night several wolves were killed in an earthquake and this was blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that rabbits pound on the ground with their hind legs and cause earthquakes. On another night one of the wolves was killed by a bolt of lightning and this was also blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that lettuce-eaters cause lightning. The wolves threatened to civilize the rabbits if they didn't behave, and the rabbits decided to run away to a desert island. But the other animals, who lived at a great distance, shamed them saying, "You must stay where you are and be brave. This is no world for escapists. If the wolves attack you, we will come to your aid in all probability." So the rabbits continued to live near the wolves and one day there was a terrible flood which drowned a great many wolves. This was blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that carrot-nibblers with long ears cause floods. The wolves descended on the rabbits, for their own good, and imprisoned them in a dark cave, for their own protection.
When nothing was heard about the rabbits for some weeks, the other animals demanded to know what had happened to them. The wolves replied that the rabbits had been eaten and since they had been eaten the affair was a purely internal matter. But the other animals warned that they might possibly unite against the wolves unless some reason was given for the destruction of the rabbits. So the wolves gave them one. "They were trying to escape," said the wolves, "and, as you know, this is no world for escapists."

Moral: Run, don't walk, to the nearest desert island.


pack of wolves: "Rudel Wölfe"
announce: to make sth. known publicly
for: because
to pound: to stomp
hind leg: back leg
bolt of lightning: "Blitzschlag"
lettuce-eater: "Salatfresser"
desert island: island without any habitation
to shame: to make so. feel ashamed, "beschämen"
escapist: so. who tries to escape reality
probability: "Wahrscheinlichkeit"
carrot-nibbler: "Möhrenknabberer"
to descend on: to attack
to imprison: to put into a prison/jail
affair: "Angelegenheit"
purely: "rein"
internal: "innere"
to unite: to get together for a purpose
destruction: "Vernichtung"


  1. Try to tell the story in your own words before you have a closer look at the fable.
  2. Make a list of the things which the wolves blame on the rabbits and of the reasons the wolves give. What do you think of these reasons? Why do the wolves blame everything on the rabbits?
  3. Have a look at the way the other animals behave. How do you explain their behaviour?
  4. What do you think the wolves will do now? Will they be satisfied after they have eaten the rabbits?
  5. How do you think the wolves could have been stopped?
  6. This fable was first published in 1940. What do you think Thurber was thinking of when he wrote it? Who do you think the wolves, the rabbits and the other animals represent?
  7. What other political situations can you think of that are (or were) similar to the fable?