1. The Three Farmers
In a valley, three farmers lived on three farms. Farmer Boggis was a fat man who had a chicken farm. Farmer Bunce was a short, fat man who farmed ducks and geese. Farmer Bean was a tall, skinny man who farmed turkeys and apples, which he made into alcoholic cider. All three were rich, greedy, and mean men.
2. Mr. Fox
Near the valley, in a hole under a tree, lived a family of foxes. The family consisted of Mr. Fox, Mrs. Fox, and their four children - the "Small Foxes" (7). Every evening, Mr. Fox would sneak into one of the three farmers' farms and steal food for his family. The farmers hated Mr. Fox and tried to catch him, but they never succeeded because Mr. Fox was clever and took precautions like waiting for the wind to blow away from him, so that they wouldn't smell him coming.
One night, however, the farmers teamed up and devised a plan to find Mr. Fox's hole and wait outside it with guns.
3. The Shooting
On the night the farmers plan to shoot Mr. Fox, the conversation in the home of the foxes was the same as usual - Mrs. Fox told Mr. Fox what she would like him to steal for dinner and cautioned him to be careful. Mr. Fox was self-assured, not knowing that the farmers were outside waiting. He crawled up the hole slowly, sniffing for the farmers. When he was halfway out of the hole, he heard a rustle, but he thought it must have been the sound of a small animal moving nearby. When he got almost all of the way out of the hole, he saw something shiny - a gun! He jumped back in the hole just as the farmers fired the first shot. When the farmers went to see if they killed him, they found that all they did was shoot off part of his tail. The farmers were angry that they still didn't get Mr. Fox and vowed to get shovels to "dig him out" (14).
4. The Terrible Shovels
Back in the hole, Mr. Fox complained about his hurting tail while Mrs. Fox comforted him. The foxes went to sleep without dinner. However, Mr. Fox could not sleep because of the pain in his tail. Because of this, he was awake to hear a scraping sound that he realized was the farmers digging down to their home. He quickly woke his family and the foxes cried in fear listening to the sound. When they saw a shovel break through their roof, Mr. Fox got an idea and a race begun with the foxes digging down further and the farmers following with their shovels. After about an hour, the foxes stopped and listened; they could no longer hear the farmers. Mrs. Fox complimented Mr. Fox for his bravery and good idea, calling him "fantastic."
5. The Terrible Tractors
At dawn, the farmers were still shoveling to no avail. Boggis and Bunce yelled at Bean because his idea did not work and asked if he had any other ideas. He said that they could use mechanical shovels. The other farmers agreed that this was a good idea and Boggis stayed to watch the hole while Bean and Bunce got their large digging machines. They came back with two large, black digging machines. They started the machines and immediately the tree on the hill fell over and the hole grew rapidly. Down deep in the earth, the foxes heard the noise. Mr. Fox quickly realized what the farmers were doing and urged his family to start digging again, even faster and harder than before.
6. The Race
The machines dug and dug and so do the foxes. As the hole in the hill grew bigger and bigger, the foxes grew more and more tired and desperate, and the farmers more and more blood-thirsty. All day, the foxes and farmers dug, until the hole looked "like the crater of a volcano" (28) and drew villagers from nearby over to wonder at and mock the farmers.
In these first few chapters, Dahl sets up the world of the story, introduces almost all of the main characters, and begins the conflict. It is interesting to note that Dahl introduces the farmers before Mr. Fox, perhaps so that the reader will already dislike the farmers before they find out that Mr. Fox steals from them, making his stealing more acceptable.
Dahl turns the reader immediately against the farmers by giving them exaggerated physical traits, tied to negative personality traits. He describes Bunce and Boggis as fat, suggesting gluttony, and Bean's scrawny figure suggests a miserly personality and anxious, controlling nature. He repeats these often throughout the book to help readers remember and differentiate the characters.
Another interesting thing to note about the farmers is that Bean comes up with their plans every time. Though the farmers each have their own successful farms, Bean is clearly the most clever of the group, and the other farmers allow him to take the lead. Only in one instance, coming in the next section, does Boggis or Bunce make a suggestion that Bean has not already thought of.
Similar to the strict power and intelligence structure of the farmers, Mr. Fox is the clear leader of his family. Though Mrs. Fox is present and presents some comfort and moral guidance to her husband and children, Mr. Fox is clearly the clever one who will lead the family to safety through his quick and creative ideas. Mr. Fox could be said to parallel Bean, and the conflict of the story could be distilled to a conflict between Mr. Fox and Farmer Bean, with the other characters along for the ride.
Dahl sends an environmental message through the way the farmers carelessly tear up the hill in their pursuit of Mr. Fox. Not only do they start to dig without care for how they are damaging the habitat near to their farm (and the way this could affect other animals and even their farms' production), but the introduction of the digging machines shows the way that humans' reliance on powerful technology has sped the destruction of the environment.