Analyzing the Elements in Children’s Books: The Wind in the Willows. Chapter Four

  • Student: Ivon Huang
  • National Pingtung University
  • June 2022

Chapter Four Results and Discussions

We have discussed the functions of children’s literature and the definitions in Chapter 2. One of the key functions of children’s literature is to help the reader, no matter they are children or adults, to have a different view on their life (Crippen, 2012). The children’s experiences may be rich and could not be expressed by words, it is still possible to find literature elements in the stories. Plus, Lukens suggested that the picture book is not just a simple book, the texts are worth to be evaluated. (Lukens, 2007, p.49) From now on the researcher will analyze the literature elements of The Wind in The Willows: characters and plots.

4.1. Revelation of round character

Round characters are dynamic, who are always changing (Sutherland, 1997, p.31). As mentioned in Chapter 2, the traits of round character are demonstrated in the story (“Flat and round characters”, 2021). Toad from The Wind in the Willows is identified as round character, who is always changing, and growing through some events. He was once an ambitious and proud toad, however after enduring adventures and fighting weasels, his attitude changed.

4.1.1. Toad: from pride to modesty

Toad from The Wind in the Willows (Grahame, 1908) is one of the round characters of the story. Toad’s attitude changes after his adventures in cities and fighting with weasels. This can be observed by action, speeches, opinions, and author’s comment (Lukens, 2007, p.77). At the first, Toad was proud and careless, he got fascinated by other people’s cars, so he gotone. Later, he encountered a car accident; thus, his friends keep him in the house under their surveillance (Grahame, 1908, p.138). However, Toad escaped, he walked “briskly” from the home, we can see how arrogant he is from his movements, which was careless and leisurely (Grahame, 1908, p.143). Moreover, in his eyes, the sunlight on the field is “smiling brightly on him” This shows that he thought he was right, and the escape was such a big achievement instead of a mistake (Grahame, 1908, p.143).

Toad ran away and stole a car, then his car ran into a shop, so he got arrested. Then again, he escaped from the prison (Grahame, 1908, p.170). On his escaping tour, he was still a wailing toad. In an argument with the barge-woman, he said, “Don’t you dare to talk to your betters like that!” and claimed he is a “very well-known, respected, distinguished Toad.” From his speeches, we know what he thought about himself is still the same: he was egotistical and with lots of senses of superiority. Also, let’s have a glimpse of his actions: In return to the mocking of the barge-woman, Toad stole her horse and ran away (Grahame, 1908, p.207). On the field he also sang a parody song of the well-known The British Grenadiers:

“The world was held a great Hero, As history-books have showed. But never a name to go down to fame Compared with that of Toad!” “The clever men at Oxford Know all that there is to be known. But they none of them know one half as much As intelligent Mr. Toad!”

(Grahame, 1908, p.214)

This is considered to be one of the “conceited” songs by the author. He called himself “the greatest hero” and “intelligent”, no one can be compared with him. Such a clever and mighty Toad was singing for a long time and “inflating every minute” (Grahame, 1908, p.215). After that, he robbed a car and drove the car back to his home. However, his home, the Toad Hall, was took over by the weasels. Therefore, he cooperated with his friends and chase the weasel away. We will talk about the conflicts, the battle of Toad’s Hall, later. Here we can notice that Toad’s attitude is slightly changed in the planning of striking Toad’s Hall. First, he apologized to the Rad for ruining his boat, now he finally had sense of guilty (Grahame, 1908, p.289). Second, he listened to Badger’s plan carefully. And in the operation of creeping into the hall by walking the underground path, he kept silent and stayed at the last in order not to ruin their plans. We can tell that the Toad is becoming a little bit sympathized, which his pride is vanishing at the same time.

After the battle, in the celebration banquet, people asked Toad to sing a song about boasting himself, however he “only shook his head gently”, refused to deliver a boasting speech. The Badger and Rat “starring each other with open mouth”: They couldn’t believe this! The arrogant, irresponsible Toad now is truly a different animal. Plus, author comments: “He was indeed an altered Toad!”. (Grahame, 1908, p.259) So, the round characters are due to changes: Toad was a careless and bold character, after a several of adventures, Toad now become a modest character. These can easily be observed by readers through their behaviors and speaking ways: Before fighting with weasels, he was “irresponsible”, later Toad becomes sympathetic. He expressed frankly in the banquet:

“You are right, I know, and I am wrong. Hence forth I will be a very different Toad.”

(Grahame, 1908, p.255)

This is how the round characters changes: Their actions and speeches are changing by the time, finally they caused changes to round character’s traits.

4.1.2. Revelation of flat character

In contrast with round characters, flat characters are less important, but essential to the story. As we mentioned in the 2.1.2, flat characters are always stereotyped characters who has single traits and will not change (Lukens, 2007, p.82). However, they are essential to the story because they make the story move forward. These flat characters below, even he or she only appears once in the book, is still important to make the story move forward. Portly

Portly, the young son of Otter, is missing in “Piper at The Gate of The Dawn” from The Wind in the Willows (Grahame, 1908). He is a flat character, a young and adventurous animal. And it is his missing that make Water Rat and Mole go for him and met the Pan, who cast a spell on Portly and both of them.

Otter have searched his son for several days but cannot find him. At the midnight, he sat desperately at the bank and watched the ford, hoping his son would come back. Hearing Water Rat’s worries about the missing of Portly, Mole said Portly is “adventurous” and he will “turn up again” (Grahame, 1908, p.149) so it’s unnecessary for Water Rat to worry about him. However, Otter had hunted for everywhere, no one had ever seen the little Portly. Therefore, they got the boat out, down to the river. On an island, which Water Rat described as “the place of my song-dream”, they saw many wonderful scenes (Grahame, 1908, p.155) Later they found the “the little, round, podgy, childish” Portly was lying on the hooves of Pan. (Grahame, 1908, p.156) Finally, they made a worship and took Portly back to home. It was like a beautiful dream because all of them forgot what happened last night.

Not a word was spoken by the young Portly, the son of Otter. All we know he is the son of Otter; he is a flat, not developed character. Also, he has many common traits of children: little, naive, and venturesome personalities. The gaoler’s daughter

The gaoler’s daughter who helped Toad escaping from the prison, is a kind and kindhearted girl. She pitied Toad and let him go. The flat character will never change. Therefore, the gaoler’s daughter is a flat character, she is always kind all the time.

Toad was locked down in a prison in “Toad’s Adventures” (Grahame, 1908). Because he was sentenced for 10 years, Toad was depressed from the day he entered the prison. Few days later, the “pleasant wench and good-hearted” girl begged her father to let her have managing on him. (Grahame, 1908, p.164) She called Toad “a blessed animal” and had high interest on Toad’s stories. She is a kind character from the beginning to the end. We can know this from her words:

“Now, cheer up, Toad,” She said, coaxingly, on entering, “and sit up and dry your eyes and be a sensible animal.”

(Grahame, 1908, p.164)

First, she brought some nice food for Toad, and later she brought more teas and toasts. Toad was so hungry, so he enjoyed delicious food very much. Plus, she was fond of animals therefore she will not call him and his friends’ “pets” (Grahame, 1908, p.165). After having some interesting talks with Toad, gaoler’s daughter suggested that Toad can disguise as a washerwoman and run away. Toad said she is a “kind, clever” girl. (Grahame, 1908, p.168) good-hearted.

The plan was successful, Toad stared his new adventures. The gaoler’s daughter is always kind to this poor animal. From her actions and speaking, she is indeed a flat character who is less important to the story but helps carry the action and push the story (of Toad) forward. The Weasels and Stoats

Weasels and Stoat are evil animals from the Wild Wood. They took Toad’s Hall while he is away from his own. There are many of them, who occupied Toad’s Hall. The stereotypes are obvious, which can be observed from their actions and speaking. For example, while Toad is screaming at the front of the door, they shot him. (Grahame, 1908, p. 228) Also, according to Mole’s description, they do many bad things in Toad’s Hall:

“And going on simply anyhow! Lying in bed half of the day, and breakfast at all hours, and the place in such a mess! (I’m told) it’s not fit to be seen! Eating your grub, and drinking your drink, and making bad jokes about you, and singing vulgar song.”

(p. 227)

These make reader know their traits in a short time. They simply took over his house and do what they want in it. And at the last the chief of the Weasels mocks Toad and weasels around him start laughing:

“I should like to say one word about our kind host, Mr. Toad. We all know Toad!”-(great laughter)-”Good Toad, modest Toad, honest Toad!” (shrieks of merriment)

(Grahame, 1908, p.246)

So, the stereotypes are very obvious: the weasels and stoats are evil and cunning because their actions manifest their traits clearly. Many of them reacted to Toad’s story with a burst of cruel laughter.

Thus, they are important to the story. We don’t know names of most of them, not only they are too much, but their traits are exposed through their actions. They are the ones who got to be beaten by Toad and his friend, this makes the story come to an end.

4.2. Plot

Descriptions of a thing after another thing are just events. Adding some cause and effects make events turn into plots (Margaret, 1983). In order to create a good story instead of plain descriptions events, the writer must use some elements in their story to make it more vivid (Bunting and Reid, 2022). Therefore, conflicts are presented, it can create climaxes which will force characters to solve problems and push the stories forward.

4.2.1. Conflicts

Conflict is a common element in children’s literature. Lukens indicated that tension, friction, alternatives, excitement, suspense, discovery, and resolution are included in a conflict (Lukens, 2007, p.103). And there are four types of them: person-against-self, person-against-person, person-against-society, and person-against-nature.

A story may contain one or more conflicts, while The Wind in the Willows mainly represents two conflicts: the person-against-self conflict and person-against-person conflicts. The Water Rat in the story enjoys interacting with other people, so the internal conflicts occurred, especially in the conversation with the Sea Rat. On the other hand, the latter is more common in the story because Toad is easily to enter a quarrel with other characters, especially in his adventures in the city. Person-against-self conflicts Water Rat-against-himself

Water Rat has internal conflicts in “Wayfarers All” of The Wind in The Willows (Grahame, 1908) after he listened to Sea Rat’s stories, a tension of making the right choice. It is the struggle of exploring the world or staying at home. Many animals go to the south, Water Rat try to find out the reason, therefore his mind got affected by the stories told by the Sea Rat. Thus, the conflict causes the internal conflict, a kind of feeling that making the right decision. At the beginning, Water Rat saw many animals go to the south in winter. For example, he got confused in the talking with the swallows:

Water Rat: “(Swallows planning for the routes is) Fun? Now that’s just what I don’t’ understand. If you’ve got to leave this pleasant place, and your friends who will miss you, and your snug homes that you’ve just settled into.”

Water Rat also questioned them:

“Couldn’t’ you stop on for just this year?” Suggested the Water Rat, wistfully.

(Grahame, 1908, p.183)

The swallows refused because the weather would getting cold, they had to fly to the south. However, the Water Rat really hoped them to stay with him, but the animals had their own reason, so they are all leaved. While wandering on the bank, the internal conflict is appearing in Water Rat’s mind: Is moving to the south bad? He started to imagine the scenery of the south: “What sun-bathed coasts, along which the while, villas glittered against the olive woods!” (Grahame, 1908, p.186) Nevertheless, he still didn’t know if that is a right choice until he met the Sea Rat, a rat who visited many places. The Sea Rat told Water Rat:

“I supposed you for great voyages. Month and months out of sight of land, and provisions running short, and allowance as to water, and your mind communicating with the mighty ocean, an all that sort of thing?”

(Grahame, 1908, p.189)

He also described the scenery of the south, which is as same as Sea Rat’s imaginations:

“By no means. Such a life as you (Water Rat) describe would not suit me at all. I’m in the coasting trade, and rarely out of sight of land. It’s the jolly times on shore that appeal to me, as much as any seafaring.”

(Grahame, 1908, p.189)

Water Rat is fascinated by his stories. He inquired the Water Rat to telling more. Moreover, after telling his adventures on the sea, the Sea Rat had to leave, and he encouraged Water Rat to go out:

“Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new!”

(Grahame, 1908, p.196)

The Water Rat may think “How exciting the outer world is!” The Sea Rat describe the tour as a “voyage”, which are the experiences the Water Rat would never have. From here, the internal conflict of Water Rat is raising: Maybe the Sea Rat, and other animals who went to the South were right. Now he wanted to go outside, too.

After talking with Sea Rat, he was triggered by his experiences and want to explore the world: He packed his luggage “without no hesitation at all” and murmured “Going South, with the rest of them” (Grahame, 1908, p.197) He was so charmed by the imagination of moving south that he didn’t even notice the Mole who standing in front of him. From Mole’s view, we can know that the Water Rat is facing a great tension:

The Mole, now thoroughly alarmed, placed himself in front of him, and look into his eyes, saw that they were glazed and set and turned a streaked and shifting grey-not his friends’ eyes, but the eyes of some other animal!

(Grahame, 1908, p.197)

Water Rat could only see the voyage on the road. Finally, Water Rat got deterred by Mole. After being dragged into the house, the Water Rat started to tremble. His body “shaken by a violent shivering, passing in time in a hysterical fit of dry sobbing.” (Grahame, 1908, p.197) At this moment, his internal conflict is blasting. The tension of staying or not turned out to be shedding tears. He questioned himself “How recall, for another’s benefits the haunting sea voices that had sung to him, how reproduce at secondhand the magic of the Seafarer’s hundred reminiscence?” (Grahame, 1908, p.198) and continuing murmuring. These overwhelming feelings indicate that the Sea Rat was enduring the struggle and tried to find a reason to figured it out, but he cannot express them clearly to Mole. After some moments, Water Rat felt better, and Mole asked him to write a poem and spoke: “You will feel a lot better when you’ve got something jotted down.” (Grahame, 1908, p.200)

In the end, the internal conflict of the Water Rat is vanishing because he got comforted by the Mole, therefore falling into writing poems. From author’s comment: “It was joy to the Mole to know that the cure had at last begun.” (Grahame, 1908, p.200), this proves that the tension is away, now the Water Rat is recovered, no more suffering from the melancholy. Person-against-person conflicts Toad, Badger, Water Rat, Mole against the Weasels and Stoats

Weasels versus Toad and his friend, the conflict of two forces is the people-against-people conflict. When the Toad was locked down in a prison, the weasels took over his house and occupied it. In the battle of the Toad’s Hall, the conflict of different goals occurred. Toad and friend found a secret underground path to creep in and strike them. In the fierce conflict, the intense battle catches reader’s mind. At the end of the conflict, Toad showed them who is the boss, he took back his hall.

As mentioned in 4.1.1, Toad enduring a great adventure in the city. When he came back, Water Rat told him that Toad’s Hall was occupied by the Weasels from the Wild Wood. As the title of this Chapter described, “Like summer tempests came to his tears”, Toad was furious, we can know from his behavior:

Toad leans his elbows on the table, and his chin on his paws; and a large tear welled up in each of his eyes, overflowed and splashed on the table, plop! Plop!

(Grahame, 1908, p.226)

Because the Toad was away from his hall for a long time, so Weasels and Stoats took over his house. And what makes Toad angrier are what Weasels did in his Hall: They “Lying in bed half of the day, and breakfast of all hours, and the place in such a mess.” They also making bad jokes about Toad. (Grahame, 1908, p.227) Toad cannot bear anymore, he ran to his hall with only a stick, the first conflict occurred.

“Who comes there?” said the ferret.

“What do you mean by talking like that to me? Come out of that at once, or I will—”

The ferret never said a word, but he brought his gun up to his shoulder, Toad prudently dropped flat in the road, and Bang! A bullet whistled over his head.

(Grahame, 1908, p.228)

In this conflict, the ferret did not give any response, and Toad was shocked and ran back to Water Rat’s house, so it was the failure of the Toad. Later, Mole reported that the situation is getting worse: there were always animals on the lock-out, equipped with weapons around Toad’s Hall (Grahame, 1908, p.233). Finally, Badger told Toad that there is a secret underground passage under his Hall, but that was not enough for attacking because the sentinels were so overpowered. At this time, Mole came back, he said he cheat the Weasels, by disguising as a washerwoman and warned them there would be a great army coming for them in all directions:

“A hundred bloodthirsty badgers, armed with rifles, are going to attack Toad Hall this very night, by way of the paddock. Six boatloads of Rats, with pistols and cutlasses, will come up the river and effects a landing in the garden; while a picked body of Toads, known as the Die-hards, or the Death-or-Glory Toads, will storm the orchard and carry everything before them, yelling for vengeances.”

(Grahame, 1908, p.241)

The reader may think “How clever the Mole was!” His words, “bloodthirsty”. “Die-hard” truly frightened the Stoats. “They were all nervous and fluttered as they could be.”said by the Mole (Grahame, 1908, p.227). We also know this ferrets’ reactions: this “fake” conflict was already occurred in their’ mind. Therefore, there would be no one in the house, guarding those weasels who would enjoy their meals in the banquet hall at the night.

After all weapons were ready, Toads and his friend have departed. At the night, while the Weasels were enjoying their meals, Toads, Badger, Rat and Mole were going through the “cold, and dark, and damp, and low, and narrow” underground passage (Grahame, 1908, p.244). When they got close to the trapdoor behind the banquet hall, they heard Weasels were playing joke on Toad, which made Toad extremely angry:

“I should like to say one word about our kind host, Mr. Toad. We all know Toad!”—(great laughter)—“Good Toad, modest Toad, honest Toad!” (shrieks of merriment).

(Grahame, 1908, p.246)

Such an insulting speaking from the Chief Weasel ignited Toad’s anger. The conflict of opposing forces now began! Badger opened the door and started attacking Weasels. In the fierce battle, the terrified weasels “dive under the tables and rushed to the fireplace, jammed in the chimney” while Toad was screaming “My! My!” The author also commented “Well might tables and chairs be upset, and glass and china be sent crashing on the floor.” (Grahame, 1908, p.246) Toad went to Chief of Weasels and sent him flying across the table with his stick (Grahame, 1908, p.249). Seeing varies of colors of animals attacking, most weasels didn’t not fight back but escape from here and there, with squeals of terror and dismay (Grahame, 1908, p.248).

The battle was quickly coming to an end, in “The Return of Ulysses” from The Wind in the Willows. This time, it was the grand victory of the Toad and hist friends! Toad thanked them with pleasure:

“Thank you kindly, dear Mole, for all your pains and trouble tonight, and especially for your cleverness this morning!”

(Grahame, 1908, p.251)

Consequently, after these conflicts and battles, Toad learned the value of the cooperation and friendship. As we mentioned in the 4.1.1, Toad was once proud and careless, now he became a different toad, who is modest and genuine to his friends. The conflicts of two forces with different goals, brought the changes to the main protagonist, the Toad, and made him become a totally different, well-transformed “Ulysses” at the end.

4.2.2. Theme

Theme is the central idea of the story, a significant truth. It can be stated explicitly or implicitly by the author (Lukens p.131 2007). Since the explicitly theme is easier to understand and observer, there are two explicit themes presented in the story of The Wind in The Willows (Grahame, 1908): Friendships. Furthermore, the author, Grahame, Kenneth, is especially good at depicting the natural scenes throughout the story while the round characters are helping each other to solve problems. Friendship of round characters

The round characters, as we mentioned above, are Toad, Water Rat, Badger and Mole. The friendship is the focal point of the book because these round characters will always help their fellows. First, the friendship of Mole and Water Rat is easily to be observed since they meet and share food at the beginning of the book. Later, the author introduces Toad. At first glance, he is like a crazy and selfish toad, however his friends care about him very much. Though scolding him for street racing, his friends still take care of his house after he run away. Friendship of Mole and Water Rat

We can know that Mole and Water Rat like to share each other’s food and invite another one to his house (Grahame, 1908, p.50). When Mole is in trouble, Water Rat will come to help him immediately. For example, when the Mole want to reach the Badger’s house but get lost in the Wild Wood, the Water Rat come to save him with guns armed. The author describes the action of Water Rat when he finds outs that Mole had gone tothe Wild Wood:

The Rat looked very grave and stood in deep thought for a minute or two. Then he re-entered the house, strapped a belt round his waist, shoved a brace of pistols into it, took up a stout cudgel that stood in a corner of the hall, and set off for the Wild Wood at a smart pace.

(Grahame, 1908, p.86)

This is a good representation of their friendship. After Rat wake up from the nap, he immediately knows what happened and run away to save his friends. He also comforts his best friend when he found out Mole is trembling and being horrified in the cave.

“O Rat!” he cried, “I’ve been so frightened, you can’t think!”

“O, I quite understand,” said the Rat soothingly, “You shouldn’t really have gone and done it, Mole. I did my best to keep you from it. We river-bankers, we hardly ever come here by ourselves.”

(Grahame, 1908, p.87)

Rat also stays with Mole in the cave and wait for him to recovery from the tiredness. Moreover, they are so intimate, so both give each other a nickname, which are “Molly” and “Ratty”. On the other hand, when Water Rat lost his minds and wanted to explore the world, it is the Mole in front of his house stopped him. (Grahame, 1908, p.198) This time, Mole comforts his friends by asking him to write a poem.

From above we know that the theme, friendship, is expressed through the speaking and actions of the two characters. Friendship of Toad and his friends

The round characters, Mole, Water Rat, Water Rat and Mr. Badger know Toad a lot. For example, when Mole asks Water Rat that the brave Toad may come to the Wild Wood alone, he replied “He wouldn’t show his face alone, not for a whole hatful of golden guineas, Toad wouldn’t” (Grahame, 1908, p.88). Therefore, it is because they often keep in touch with Toad so Water Rat certain that Toad will not dare to come to the dangerous Wild Wood by himself.

Another example is the battle of Toad’s Hall. Even though Toad was in prison, their friends keep an eye on his hall for him. Instead of scolding Toad for coming crimes, his friends had come to their minds with a variety of ways to help Toad to take his hall back:

“Come, cheer up, Toady!” said the Badger, “There are more ways of getting back a place than taking it by storm. I haven’t said my last word yet. Now I’m going to tell you a great secret.”

“There—is—an—underground—passage,” said the Badger.

(Grahame, 1908, p.235)

The reason for Badger to disclose this secret is that Toad’s father was Badger’s old friend, and he knew that his son cannot hold his tongue (Grahame, 1908, p.235). In the time of emergency, advice and actions from Badger and Mole are truly beneficial to Toads. Later, as mentioned before in and 4.1.1. where we discuss the changes of Toad, this is mainly caused by his friends. With a lot helps from his friends, Toad cherish the dedication of his friends for fighting with him. The actions of his friends shape the new personality of Toad: from pride to modesty. He is not the one who bloating himself all day long, now Toad is totally a newborn character.

On the wind that lifts their spirit through the air, the power of friendship can change an animal and make people’s minds come together.

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