"There’s real life for you, embodied in that little cart. The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that’s always changing! And mind, this is the very finest cart of its sort that was ever built, without any exception."
This passage - from Toad’s monologue about his new caravan - is meant to convince Mole and Rat to join him on the road. However, the themes he touches upon are quite central to the novel as a whole. For instance, the characters are always interested in adventures, since they see the wide world as an exciting place to visit. The cart symbolizes this notion. And still, the differing attitudes towards the cart reveals the differences in characterization. Whereas Rat sees the cart as requiring hard work, Toad sees it as an idyllic symbol of excitement. This moment, the first journey we see the animals take with Toad, sets up much of the dynamic that continues to resonate through the novel.
"His home-sickness had quite slipped away from him, and for the moment he was the skipper of the canary-coloured vessel driven on a shoal by the reckless jockeying of rival mariners, and he was trying to recollect all of the fine and biting things he used to say to masters of seam-launches when their wash, as they drove too near the bank, used to flood his parlour carpet at home."
This passage - which describes Rat's sudden outburst after the motorcar destroys the caravan - gives layered insight into Rat's character. Though he had felt homesick for most of the journey, he here grows instinctively protective of his new property and homestead. Rat might have a firm idea of home, but he also sees his home as wherever his friends are. When it is threatened, he is ready to fight. The passage also serves as an interesting commentary on Rat's later interaction with Sea Rat, comparing him to a sea captain. Though that interaction makes him doubt himself, this passage shows that he is in his own way quite a dynamic and powerful leader when circumstances require it.
"The Badger did not mind that sort of thing at all, nor did he take any notice of elbows on the table, or everybody speaking at once. As he did not go into Society himself, he had got an idea that these things belong to the things that didn’t really matter. (We know of course that he was wrong, and took too narrow a view; because they do matter very much, though it would take long to explain why.)"
Because Badger is not a social creature, he has forgotten many of the social graces and standards that other animals would enforce. The most interesting thing about this quote, however, is Grahame’s direct address to deliver moral guidance. The Wind in the Willows is a book for children, and it was important to Grahame that his young readers learn the value of domesticity and manners in addition to enjoying the adventure. This moment gives evidence of that goal - while we should enjoy Badger's quirks, we should also benefit from the lesson those quirks provide.
"Toad’s rich, we all know; but he’s not a millionaire. And he’s a hopelessly bad driver, and quite regardless of law and order. Killed or ruined—it’s got to be one of the two things sooner or later."
Badger’s concern for Toad’s well-being here provides the reader's first introduction to the severity of Toad's bad habits. Though we know by now that Toad is enamored with cars, it is only here that we learn how his obsession might have serious consequences for his finances and safety. Further, Badger suggests here that Toad's problem is not his obsession, but rather his selfish disregard of anything (like the law) that gets in the way. Badger's sentiment not only underlines Grahame's didactic purposes - he wishes us to learn from his characters - but also foreshadows how Badger will forcefully mentor Toad towards self-awareness.
“People come—they stay for a while, they flourish, they build—and they go. It is their way. But we remain. There were badgers here, I’ve been told, long before that same city ever came to be. And now there are badgers here again. We are an enduring lot, and we may move out for a time, but we wait, and are patient, and back we come. And so it will ever be.”
Badger’s monologue about the habits of humans offers an interesting comment on Grahame's wariness of cities. In his own life, Grahame never felt at home in the city, which he saw as wasteful and inferior to nature. While he paints humans as wasteful and self-involved, he likewise presents nature as cyclical and ever-lasting. Even if nature is seemingly conquered by humans (as the Wild Wood once was), it will always persist and persevere, and hence should be valued rather than seen as inferior.
"He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on the sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome."
Here, the narrator explains Mole's feelings after visiting his old home with Rat. Having left home so suddenly to immerse himself in the river life, he had forgotten about the place he once loved. This passage touches on one of the novel's most interesting conflicts: the love of home vs. the love of adventure. While Mole continues to yearn for the adventurous life in this passage, he also recognizes the yearning for personal space, and the desire for stability. He will return to the river life, but will also value this escape; both are part of our natural desires.
"When his violent paroxysms possessed him, he would arrange the bedroom chairs in rude resemblance of a motorcar and would crouch on the foremost of them, bent forward and staring fixedly ahead, making uncouth and ghastly noises, till the climax was reached, when turning a complete somersault, he would lie prostrate amidst the ruins of the chairs, apparently completely satisfied for the moment."
Toad’s house arrest is difficult for him because he has been “poisoned” by automobiles. This issue is evident here, as Toad tries to simulate the experience of driving a car while locked in his room. This is clearly childish behavior - he is playing like a boy obsessed with a new technology or toy. It is the type of immaturity that soon enough lands him in jail. Grahame wishes us to see the consequences of obsession and a lack of self-awareness, all in hopes that we might learn from Toad's folly.
"It was the Badger, who having finished his pie, had turned round in his chair and was looking at them severely. When he saw that he had secured their attention, and that they were evidently waiting for him to address them, he turned back to the table again and reached out for the cheese. And so great was the respect commanded by the solid qualities of that admirable animal, that not another word was uttered until he had quite finished his repast and brushed the crumbs from his knees."
Here, we get a sense of what makes Badger the 'oldest' of the characters, he who commands the most respect. They listen to him because he is a commanding presence with the solidarity and strength that a good leader possesses. Before this passage, the other animals are bickering, revealing thereby their immaturity. Like a good teacher does, Badger enforces quiet not by raising his voice, but through silence. He hardly has to push for silence; he merely demands it through his presence. Grahame subtly suggests that respect is not forced, but earned through a lifetime of choices and high expectations.
"He sang this very loud, with great unction and expression; and when he had done, he sang it all over again.
Then he heaved a deep sight; a long, long, long sigh.
Then he dipped his hairbrush in the waterjug, parted his hair in the middle, and plastered it down very straight and sleek on each side of his face; and, unlocking the door, went quietly down the stairs to greet his guests, who he knew must be assembling in the drawing room."
This moment marks a climax for Toad: he has finally achieved maturity. After practically throwing a tantrum when Badger refuses to let him sing, Toad realizes that he cannot remain the same vain, selfish animal he has always been. Though the change happens internally, the reader can surmise how Toad is realizing the disconnect between his boasting and all the trouble his immaturity has caused. As he parts his hair, he is moving from a childish creature into a more respectable gentleman/toad. From this point onwards, Toad knows that he will act like an adult and handle himself with proper manners.
"Sometimes, in the course of long summer evenings, the friends would take a stroll together in the Wild Wood, now successfully tamed so far as they were concerned; and it was pleasing to see how respectfully they were greeted by the inhabitants, and how the mother-weasels would bring their young ones to the mouths of their holds, and say, pointing, 'Look, baby! There goes the great Mr. Toad! And that’s the gallant Water Rat, a terrible fighter, walking along o’ him! And yonder comes the famous Mr. Mole, of whom you so often have heart your father tell!’ But when their infants were fractious and quite beyond control, they would quiet them by telling them how, if they didn’t hush them and not fret them, the terrible grey Badger would up and get them. This was a base libel on Badger, who, though he cared little about Society, was rather fond of children; but it never failed to have its full effect."
The final paragraph of The Wind in the Willows sums up the journey and friendship of the four main characters, describing how far they have come. Most importantly, it shows how their growth has improved their reputations. Grahame suggests that we are valued more highly when we are mature.
However, the passage serves a dual purpose, as it also provides meta-commentary on how parents teach their children, which is a primary purpose of children’s literature. Parents often look to stories of heroes to give their children something to aspire to. However, parents also try to impart consequences of bad behavior in order to keep children from acting out. Toad, Mole, and Rat are figures for children to emulate, as they have exhibited the steadfast qualities and friendly demeanors that parents want their children to have. Yet even though Badger loves children, he is still a terrifying and imposing figure that would scare some small children. This is why the threat of his presence makes children change their bad behavior (much as happens with Toad). In effect, Grahame uses his last paragraph to remind us that we should not only enjoy The Wind in the Willows, but also learn from it.
The Wind in the Willows Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Wind in the Willows is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
As he gazed, something bright and small seemed to twinkle down in the heart of it, vanished, then twinkled once more like a tiny star. But it could hardly be a star in such an unlikely situation; and it was too glittering and small...