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

Categories   Liberal Arts Personal Thoughts
Table of Contents
  • Student: Ivon Huang
  • National Pingtung University
  • June 2022


Reading children’s literature is beneficial to readers, both children and adults, since it makes readers to understand other people’s feelings. Also, young readers can achieve a positive mental thought from observing actions of characters in the children’s books. For readers who want to select qualified children’s literature book for their children, this study analyzed three elements of children’s literature. They are the round characters and the flat charters, two different kinds of conflicts and explicit theme of children’s literature. These elements can be used to find the qualified children’s books.

The famous British children book “The Wind in the Willows” by Grahame, Kenneth (1908) was selected for studying. In this study, the researcher would analyze the elements of children’s literature in The Wind in The Willows. The major finding is that the round characters, such as Toad, would make changes after conflicts. Also, flat characters are also important to the story since they could push the story moving forward. What’s more, round characters are dynamic who have the capacity of changing in the story. This would lead to the explicit theme of the book: the friendship among round characters. These findings proved the qualified children’s literature elements do exist in The Wind in The Willows. It is helpful for people who are interested in children’s literature.

Keywords: children’s literature, conflicts, round character, explicit theme, flat character

Chapter One Introduction

Why should we read children’s literature? Imagine being a child who can barely speak and express his or her feelings, so that he or she would need something to help him or her to develop skills of speaking and writing. This could be done in many ways, by reading children’s literature, especially those were written for children, are very useful to them. Lukens (2007) suggested that while children developing their language skills, they will be able to express their emotions in better ways and understand other people’s feelings (Lukens, 2007, p.xxiv). Besides, the adults would also benefit from reading and evaluating children’s literature. Thus, they would learn how to select qualified children’s books for their children to read. Also, adults could understand the views of children from these works.

The purpose of this research is to analyze the elements of children’s literature books: Character, conflicts and theme. These literary elements made qualified children’s books. What’s more, readers will know to evaluate and select good children’s literature books for their children. The researcher selected the well-known British children’s literature book: The Wind in The Willows for studying. It was a children’s literature book by British author Kenneth Graham which was published in 1908. The story is mainly about the friendship and adventures of four animals. These characters have different kind of personalities which will cause many conflicts, battles among all characters in the story. Hence here comes three research questions of this study:

  1. Who are the round characters and flat characters in The Wind in The Willows?
  2. What types of conflicts would occur in the book?
  3. What are the primary themes of the book?

Since characters, conflicts, themes are essential to a book, this study will focus on examining if the book, The Wind in The Willows, has these elements. In this study, the researcher will discuss the elements of children’s literature, based on Lukens (2007), Peter (1999) and several experts’ theories. Also, they pointed out several types of themes of children’s literature. Chapter 3 will discuss the reasons why the researcher chose the book, The Wind in The Willows, for studying. Chapter 4 will analyze elements of children’s literature books.

In conclusion, the researcher found out that The Wind in The Willows did have the elements of qualified literature based on several children’s literature theories suggested by several experts (Lukens, 2007; Peter, 1999; Crippen, 2012; Norton, 1993). A major finding is that the characters, conflicts, and themes in this book are well-designed. Characters would become a different animal after conflicts with the help of other characters. Finally, the theme of the book is explicitly expressed through the round characters’ behaviors.

This study may serve as an inspiration for readers who are interested in children’s books. Thus, readers could know how to evaluate children’s literature and select high quality book for their children.

Chapter Two Literature Review

Many specialists argue for the functions of children’s literature. Is it not only beneficial to children but also adults? Peter (1999) indicated that children’s literature is worth reading for adults. Children experiences are often unknowable by writing texts, but most of us strongly suspect it to be rich and complex (Peter, 1999, p.4). What’s more, the functionalities of children’s literature cannot be ignored. In Luke’s view, children’s literature brings pleasure, and makes children understand the ideas of other humans (Lukens, 2007, p.76). On the other hands, Crippen noted that “Quality literature does not tell the reader everything he/she needs to know; it allows for some difference in opinion.” (Crippen, 2012). Therefore, the functions of children’s literature could be splendid and useful in many ways for children and adults. Lukens stated that it is possible to develop full characters and create engaged plot in simple picture books, so the text could be judged by the standards of literary excellence (Lukens, 2007, p.49) From here we know a children book always consists of many literature elements, in this chapter, the researcher will focus on discussing the definitions of characters and plots.

2.1. Character

Generally, stories have characters. They are one of the important elements of literature. In the children’s literature, the terms “character” means a person or a personified animal or object. The “development of character” shows the complexity of life beings, no matter he or she is a person, and animal or an object (Lukens, 2007, p.76). Thus, the main character of an enjoyable story needs is seeming like a real person (Norton, 1993). Readers can understand the character from their speeches, actions, and opinions (Lukens, 2007, p.84). The importance of a character in a story determines how the character will be developed, who may be primary, secondary, or in the background. The closer the character to the center of the conflict shows how important the character is, and the complexity of the character’s personality (Lukens, 2007, p.77). They can be divided into two types: round characters and flat characters.

2.1.1. Revelation of Round Characters

When it comes to the core of the story, there are always some explicit character(s), which are “Round characters”. Round characters are fully developed, which means the traits of the character are demonstrated in the story. Readers could feel and understand characters’ personalities more. Therefore, round characters are usually complex and undergoing development, just like a real person (“Flat and round characters”, 2021). Sutherland (1997) stated in his book:

Main characters, especially the central character or protagonist, must be fully developed; that is, the reader should learn of the characters’ many traits—theirstrengths as well as their weakness.

(Sutherland, 1997, p.31)

He also stated that round characters are developed through changes:

The main characters in an excellent work of fiction for children are rounded, fully developed characters who undergo change in response to life-altering events.

(Sutherland, 1997 p.31)

To conclude, the round character is dynamic who have the capacity of changing. Round characters may grow or change through the story, so readers are able to understand the character deeper.

2.1.2. Revelation of Flat Characters

In comparison with round characters, characters who are less important in the story are “Flat characters”. Though flat characters are essential to the actions, but not fully developed, who are quickly made known to the reader (Lukens, 2007, p.82). There are always few words to describe their “types”: mad scientist, evil stepmother, animal sidekick (“Flat and round characters”, 2021). In this regard, flat characters seem do not like an individual human being; whereas who does have a few traits of a class, this is so called “stereotype” (Lukens, 2007, p.82). Sutherland stated that:

Flat characters are often stereotypes who poses only one side of their personality. Flat characters are usually static, undergoing no change in personality throughout the book.

(Sutherland, 1997, p.31)

Therefore, the difference of flat and round character lies in the complexity of the personality, the former is those with little complexity or depth of personality.

2.2. Plot

The plot is simply one thing after another thing, what happened and what happened next in a story (Margaret, 1983). However, a good writer will also add how and why to a story. As Lukens stated that the plot is a sequence of events showing characters in action. The author consciously selects a good way to tell hist story (Lukens, 2007, p.99) The plot catches reader’s eyes to see the flows and tensions of a story. Forster also suggested that “the plot organize the events according to a sense of causality” (Forster, 1927, p.86). This means. in contrast to a “story” which is just an event, it requires “cause and effect” to produce the plot (Bunting and Reid, 2022). To make it clearer: “The king died, then queen died” is an event, whereas “the king died, and queen died of grief” is a plot (Forster, 1927, p.87). Furthermore, the plot drives the story to a climax, which is so-called conflicts, a situation(s) in which characters must make a hard decision to solve problems.

2.2.1 Conflicts

Plots does not only involve sequence of event but also conflicts. Climaxes it made could make readers willing to know what will happen next. Contemporary authors often develop plots about child who face and overcome problems (Norton, 1993, p106). As Lukens defined, conflicts include tension, friction, alternatives, excitement, suspense, discovery, and resolution. When the protagonist struggle with the antagonist, the conflicts are occurred. The four kinds of conflict in literature are person-against-self, person-against-person, person-against-society, and person-against-nature (Lukens, 2007, p.103). Furthermore, a variety of conflicts may exist in a single story (Lukens, 2007, p.108). The Wind in the Willows represents two conflicts, which are: Person-against-self conflicts and person-against-person conflicts. Person-Against-Self Conflict

In person-against-self conflict, when the character is facing multiple moral choices, to decide what the right choice is (“What Is Conflict in Literature? 6 Different Types of Literary Conflict and How to Create Conflict in Writing.”, 2021). As Lukens defined, a tension that pulls Tom Sawyer toward either of two courses of action, so he is facing “internal conflicts”, this kind of feeling is called “person-against-self conflict " (Lukens, 2007, p.103). The common type of internal conflict is encompassing mental struggles, which is the distinctive way of demonstrating internal conflicts. (“What Is Conflict in Literature? 6 Different Types of Literary Conflict and How to Create Conflict in Writing.”, 2021) Person-Against-Person Conflicts

As the name suggests, person-against-person is the most common types of conflicts in literature. This type of story involves two characters with different opinions, outlooks, or goals. And if both sides think they were right, this could make the story richer (Edwards, 2020). Lukens stated that:

Tom Sawyer must face an additional conflict. The strain between the two forces is what holds our continuing interest and our intense curiosity about the outcome. Tom’s internal conflict, his growing awareness of justice opposing his fear for his life, forces him to take action in a person-versus-person conflict that causes him to face the vengeance of a villainous man.

(Lukens, 2007, p.106)

2.2.2. Theme

To know what the main idea of a story is, and what the author wants to suggest or imply us by the story, it is the theme of the story. Lukens noted that:

Theme in literature is the idea that holds the story together. It is the main idea or central meaning of a piece of writing.

(Lukens, 2007, p.131)

Because the definition of literature is “a significant truth expressed in appropriate elements and memorable languages”, the significant truth is the Theme, which is understandable for human beings without words (Lukens, 2007, p.131). Also, themes can be stated explicitly or implicitly. This means that implicit themes are easy to understand while the implicit, or the truth is hidden behind the texts, which only could be realized by reading throughout the whole story (Lukens, 2007, p.142). There are plenty of types of themes, such as Good VS. Evil, Hubris, Identity, Friendship, Nature. What’s more, the themes could be explored through literature elements: conflicts, characters, plots (Glatch, 2021). In conclusion, the theme of a story may be bright or dim. By understanding it more, we can get closer to the truth told by the author.

In conclusion, we have discussed the basic elements of children’s literature: Character, Theme and Conflicts of plots. Characters are essential to the story no matter they are round or flat characters. Round characters are the main roles of the stories whereas flat characters are necessary for events. Plus, in order to make “events” turn into “stories”, the author must write a good plot, which always consists of multiple conflicts to push the stories forward. Finally, the reader may can get the main idea and learn something from the whole story. This is the function of theme, which can be expressed implicitly or explicitly.

Chapter Three Methodology

In this chapter, we are going to discuss why we choose this book. First, it is about the popularity of The Wind in The Willows in United Kingdom and around the world. This book was well-known by lot of people, some celebrities also mentioned or recommended it for everyone to read. Second, there were a variety of adaptations of The Wind in The Willows, such as dramas, TV shows, movies and musical adaptions. We will give more details in the following paragraphs.

3.1. High popularity

The book, The Wind in The Willows, is very popular in the United Kingdom. For example, according to the list of 100 best novels which were picked up by the editors of The Guardian, The Wind in The Willows was ranked as the 38th in the list (McCrum, 2014). Furthermore, audiences of BBC voted The Wind in The Willows as the 16 of Top 21 books (BBC, 2003). From here we know that the book is very well-known to the Britain people, and some celebrities also recommend this book to their readers. Some of them suggested the book is truly educative no matter the readers are adults or children. For an instance, J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, mentioned the book in an interview: “My most vivid memory of being read to is my father reading [this book] when I was around 4 and suffering from the measles.” (The New York Times, 2012). Plus, the US president Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Grahame to tell him that he saw the novel’s principal characters as old friends. (Canterbury Classics, 2019). Therefore, we can know that the contents of The Wind in The Willows were approved by the great people and they very enjoyed read it. With so many loves from these great people, the book is indeed an excellent work in the world. More details can be found in the following table.

Figure 3.1. The Popularity of The Wind in The Willows'

Famous books rankingThe Guardian, 2014, 100 best novels: No 38 – The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame(1908)

BBC, 2003, “The Big Read” rank 16 of Top 21 books
Celebrity RecommendationsUS president Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Grahame to tell him that he saw the novel’s principal characters as old friends.

“My most vivid memory of being read to is my father reading [this book] when I was around 4 and suffering from the measles.” - J.K. Rowling

3.2. Inspirations & Adaptations

The Wind in The Willows is not only a famous book, but there also are a wide range of adaptions and inspirations. Why could the adaptions make a book more popular? What are the requirements for adaptions? Rothwell (2019) suggested that “Due to the pre-existing audience and modern social media, fans have the ability to spread the word about the adaptations allowing for it to become a part of popular culture.” Modern kids are living in a world where the Internet is accessible at everywhere, so adaptions could make old literature come alive. Also, because the plot of book was proved by pre-existing readers; thus, the adaptions are deemed to attract more audiences (Rothwell, 2019).

Below are some adaptions of The Wind in The Willows. First, according to Wikipedia 19 (2022), there are 11 films which are based on The Wind in The Willows. Some of them are cartoon movies, such as Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) and Mole’s Christmas (1994). On the other hand, the numbers of TV show adaptions are also impressive: there are 11 of them for over half a century. These adaptions make more people, especially young children to read and appreciate classic literature.

In conclusion, there are two reasons of selecting this book for research. The first one is its high popularity. It was being recommended by great people. Also, they stated the book is beneficial to readers. Secondly, the variety of adaptions proved that this book is truly a great work. With so many media types of The Wind in The Willows, more and more audiencescould get in touch with the classic literate in different ways.

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.

Chapter Five Conclusion

In conclusion, the researcher found out that The Wind in The Willows (Grahame, 1908) did have the elements of qualified literature based on several children’s literature theories suggested by the experts (Lukens, 2007; Peter, 1999; Crippen, 2012; Norton, 1993). First, the four round characters are well-designed and shaped. The readers could observe their personal grows easily from their behaviors and speaking, as defined by Lukens (2007, p.77). Also, there are several flat characters who make the story move forward: The loss of Portly’s son make round characters encounter the mysterious creatures in the woods; The kindhearted gaoler’s daughter helped Toad to escape from the prison. At last, few round characters would change their personality traits to some extents, while flat characters are the ones who push the story moving forward.

Second, two types of conflicts occurred in The Wind in The Willows: They are Person- against-self conflicts and Person-against-person conflicts. These conflicts are essential to this book because round characters made changes after conflicts, such as Toad: from pride to modesty. Thanks to his friends, he acknowledged his mistakes and made changes, so he turns out to be completely new Toad. By reading this, young readers would learn the positive ideas of human life which leads to an optimistic mind.

Third, the primary theme of the book is friendship because animals would help each other to overcome the difficulties. For example, Toad’s friends helped him fight against the Weasels, or the Mole comforted Water Rat while he lost his mind. This could help readers, especially children learn the spirits of helping each other imperceptibly. In these findings, this book does have qualified children book elements. Therefore, children’s literature is not only beneficial to children but the adults. By putting ourselves in shoes of others, readers would shift their perspectives. That means readers would have a different view of the world which is good for human’s life.

The experts provide the theories and guidelines of children’s literature books, so novelists could create brilliant and qualified works. By applying theories provided by experts, adults readers would be able to distinguish what are the qualified children books would be like. And parents will know how to select good books for their children.


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Crippen, Martha. (2012). The Value of Children’s Literature. Luther College. childrens-literature

Edwards, Gina. (2020). Mastering Conflict in Fiction: 7 Types of Conflict and How to Use Them. ProWiritngAid. conflict-in-literature.aspx

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MasterClass staff. (2021). What Is Conflict in Literature? 6 Different Types of Literary Conflict and How to Create Conflict In Writing. MasterClass.

MasterClass staff. (2021).What Is Character vs. Nature Conflict? Learn About the Literary Conflict with Examples. MasterClass. .

McCrum, Robert. (2014). The 100 best novels: Help!. The Guardian.

Mei, Tun. (n.d.). “Liu lin fengsheng jí qi zhoongguo zhi lu”. British Library.

Norton, Donna E., & Saundra Norton. (2011). Through the Eyes of a Child: An Introduction to Children’s Literature (8th Edition). Pearson.

Sutherland, Zena. (1997). Children and Books 9th Edition. Pearson.


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