Chapter 2 - "The Open Road"
After some time of living with Rat, Mole has become incredibly interested in meeting the famed Mr. Toad. He asks Rat to bring him to Toad Hall - Toad's huge estate - and Rat agrees. They set off by boat.
When they reach Toad Hall, they park in the boat house, where Rat points out the dozens of boats that Toad has accumulated. He mentions that Toad had been previously obsessed with boating, but that that fad has now died.
When he sees them approach, Toad rushes out from Toad Hall, greeting them enthusiastically. Mole compliments Toad Hall, and Toad begins boasting about its prominence. Rat mentions Toad’s boating mania, but Toad scoffs at how juvenile boating was. He then ushers Rat and Mole to his newest toy: a yellow horse-drawn caravan. According to Toad, traveling the open road is the only way to truly live, and he believes this cart will allow him to explore the world.
Toad’s enthusiasm excites Mole, but Rat remains weary of Toad’s newest obsession. When Toad invites them to join him on a trip, Rat insists they stay by the river. However, when he discerns Mole's excitement at the prospect, Rat acquiesces, and the group sets off together.
Everything goes well on the first day of the trip. Much to Rat’s expectations, Toad shirks his duties of cooking and cleaning, but Mole is excited nevertheless. Suddenly, they hear a dangerous hum behind them, and the caravan is overtaken by a bustling motor car. Thrown off the road into a ditch, the caravan shatters. Though angry, Rat tries to comfort Toad, who seems entirely dazed. However, Toad quickly breaks his silence with admiring words about the motor car. He soon enough confesses his new plan: to abandon the slow, antiquated caravan in favor of a new automobile.
Rat and Mole, tired of Toad’s childishness, begin walking to the nearest town while a love-struck Toad follows behind. Once they reach the town, Rat instructs Toad to go to bed, and then arranges for the caravan to be towed back to the house. He and Mole then take a train back to the river.
The next day, they hear a rumor that Toad has ordered an expensive motor car.
Adventure is the primary theme of Chapter 2. Toad and Mole are struck by the exciting prospect of traveling the world in a caravan, and are romanced by the open air, the thought of being on their own, and the prospect of experiencing the world. Their ideas are entirely romanticized, of course, as they discover that adventure is not only difficult, but also somewhat dangerous.
Rat, on the other hand, embodies the contrasting theme of Home. Reluctant to leave the river, he is wise enough to know that Toad will probably abandon the plan once he realizes how difficult such adventure actually is. Of course, Rat is above all a good friend, and he neither lets Mole down nor lets Toad risk his safety.
The yellow caravan is a symbol for the sense of adventure that Toad and Mole yearn for. The caravan acts as a conduit for their dreams, as it harkens the idea of ancient travelers peddling wares all over the country, seeing what each place has to offer. As yellow is a symbol for optimism and amusement, it is only fitting that the caravan should be painted yellow. All in all, the vehicle reflects their naive expectations about adventure.
The caravan also represents the old world, one without technological advances. Traveling the world via a horse-drawn caravan is a slow, antiquated way of exploration. It stands in contrast to the motor car, which is fast and dangerous. Grahame's opinions about such technology are clear in the language he uses to introduce the car, which is like a “distant bee,” threatening to sting the travelers. Then, as the car passes the caravan, it “possessed all earth and air” (Grahame 22). This description has a larger meaning in context of the technological revolution that Grahame was living through. He was seeing everyone become obsessed with motor cars at the turn of the 20th century, and the way that these vehicles were taking the world by storm, with little care for what they destroyed. In the novel, the car literally destroys the caravan, in the same way that motor cars for Grahame were destroying the slow, pastoral way of life that he prized so greatly.
However, this chapter is most notable for the introduction of Mr. Toad. His many, contradictory characteristics are clear from his first appearance. Though he is friendly and outgoing, he is also extremely vain. Bragging about one’s home was not considered proper etiquette, but Toad is more interested in impressing Mole than in conforming to social expectations. In many ways, he is simply a manipulative child. For instance, the dozens of boats shows how cavalier Toad is about his life. He sees the boats as toys to be collected and then discarded when they bore him. Further, he rather nakedly exploits Mole's interest in the caravan trip to force Rat into joining him.
Of course, these vices do not make Toad into a villain. What makes Toad the most memorable character of The Wind in the Willows is that he is the novel's most fleshed out character, full of contradictions. Historians and critics believe that Grahame based Toad off his son Alastair, known to his father as "Mouse." Alastair was a rebellious child who caused many disturbances both at home and away at school. Writing about Toad's shortcomings was Grahame's way of understanding and relating to his son. He felt that, if Alastair saw how childish Toad acted, Alaistair might come out of his turbulent stage and begin behaving like a proper young man. If this interpretation is true, it certainly helps to understand how Toad can be so manipulative and yet so charming at the same time.
The representative ages of the characters are more solidified in Chapter 2. Toad is the youngest, as he does not give much thought to his actions, and does not want to be bothered with hard work. Mole shows his relative youth when he is easily romanced by the prospect of the open road. And yet he also exhibits some restraint by offering to stay with Rat when the latter animal confesses his hesitation. And indeed, Rat is the oldest of the animals, much more interested in domesticity than in traveling. In fact, he proves his worldly wisdom by predicting that Toad will get himself in trouble and abandon the caravan. Finally, Rat exhibits a sense of responsibility towards his 'younger' friends, agreeing to go on the trip for their sakes.
The relationship is also interesting here because it is the first time that a hierarchy to the social structure is revealed. Because Toad is the wealthiest animal, we see everyone else in contrast to him. For instance, when trying to convince Rat to join the adventure, Toad mentions that he will “make an animal” of Rat, as though Rat has not already reached the pinnacle of being respectable (22). He also insults Rat’s lifestyle, suggesting it pales before his own. Reflecting the very British nature of the novel, the animals do have a rigid class system. All three of them - Rat, Mole, and Toad - are animals of luxury who can afford to abandon their homes and lives to travel on a whim. However, the animal that drives the caravan is a horse. Though he has the the ability to speak, the horse is nevertheless relegated to servant status. In many ways, Chapter 2 is exciting not only for introducing a new character, but also for expanding the world of the novel, and firming up its connections to the real world.