The Wind in the Willows
Background and Context:
This is a children’s novel about river animals that have the attributes of humans.
Orientation: The first questions you should ask, as you skim the passage for a general overview are; Who, What, Where and Why?
Who is speaking, to whom (audience): The author or composer through the words given to small animals to an audience of children.
What is happening: This is a short excerpt depicting the adventuresome Toad who has impetuously adopted the latest fad or craze and wants his friends to join him on his new gipsy caravan.
Where: Set in England along a river system often used by barges.
When: Early twentieth century before cars became common. Written in 1907.
To entertain children using a fantasy or fable of animals.
To contrast the universal need of stasis or flux – sedentary life or nomadic.
Technique: The Language of Imagination
Novelist attempt to engage their audiences in the lives of their characters so we can share their experiences. Aristotle claimed that all revelation should be done through plot and character. The messages the composer espouses become clear though their actions, reactions thoughts and dialogue.
The personification or anthropomorphising of animals, giving them human characteristics and speech not only make them appealing to children but allows the composer the freedom to satirise human folly.
Toad of Toad Hall reveals through his cocky manner, flagrant actions and florid language that he is moneyed, upper class, adventuresome but also a bit irresponsible and decadent.
His boundless enthusiasm for travel and adventure interests Mole but contrasts with the reticence of Rat who prefers the safety, security and predictability of his staid stuffy sedentary existence.
Toad’s expansive, visionary and rousing declamation of “The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities!” reveals an open cosmopolitan mind, free to explore and accept new concepts, while Rat’s determination to “stick to my old river, and live in a hole, and boat, as I’ve always done. And what’s more, Mole’s going to stick to me and do as I do, aren’t you Mole?” indicates a rigid, intolerant, traditional and conformist mindset that is difficult to change.
Yet the composer offers no judgement on the two antithetical viewpoints and we the reader are allowed to reach our own conclusions.
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