Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Wind in the Willows

Grahame, K. (1969). The wind in the willows. New York: New American Library.

The Wind in the Willows is considered a classic and yet modern fantasy, because it can be attributed to one author in its original form. The novel focuses around the adventures of human-like animals.  The main characters, “Mole” and “Rat” begin by meeting after “Mole” decides to leave his underground life of constant cleaning and preparing to join “Rat” on day trips up the river.  Each chapter presents its own conflict, climax and most of the time a resolution. Yet, the overall structure of the story is in the form of an episodic plot, which I will discuss later in this blog. This work fits the genre of modern fantasy perfectly by containing all of its traits.  Among these traits are story events and settings that are not realistic, yet contain bits of realism.  The characters are developed through a stylistic device, of using a pattern of stories over a series of chapters to describe the characters, which allows the reader to connect with the characters by learning about them through descriptions and actions and stories told by other characters. As well, since this is an animal fantasy I found myself enthralled with how the author depicted the characters as very proper English gentlemen through their diction and appearance, yet allowed the animals to also maintain their natural qualities, such as “Mole” living underground.

This classic is written from the third person point-of-view and includes multiple types of conflict. “Mr. Toad” consistently exhibits a “person vs. self” conflict by being overly confident and creating mischief for himself (like stealing motor-cars) to feeling pity for himself when getting in trouble for what he has done wrong. As well, “Rat” and “Toad” faced a “person vs. nature” conflict when lost in the “Wild Wood” and not being able to find their way because of the heavy snow fall. In chapter 12, “Mole”, “Rat”, “Mr. Badger” and “Mr. Toad” took on the weasels and other devious animals to take back “Toad Hall” and creating a “person vs. person” conflict. However, I also feel that a “person vs. society” conflict prevails through the story by the animals having a society in which they have created class structures and work hard to live up to and fit in their respected class structure by exuding “animal-etiquette”.  An example of this would be, sending formal invitations to a celebratory banquet at the end of the story, because as “Mr. Badger” said to “Mr. Toad”, “It’s expected of you- in fact, it’s the rule.”

The plot is an episodic plot containing foreshadowing, flashbacks and suspense.  An example of foreshadowing that was used is when “Mr. Toad was trying to persuade “Rat” and “Mole” to travel the “open road” with him in a caravan.  “Mr. Toad” described how wonderful their lives would be by saying phrases such as “Here Today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow”. Moreover, an example of a “flashback” used in the novel would be when “Mr. Badger” explained the background of his house by reflecting on how all of the passages were made in chapter four. “Mr. Badger” explained that there was a city full of people on top of his home; however the floods and weather made the passages in his home and drove the people out of the city.  Soon after a forest grew there and the passages were clogged to create the expansive home that he had and that “mole” was so impressed with.  When thinking of the fictional element of suspense, I noticed that in every chapter the author included a sequence of suspense to perpetuate a conflict that usually led to a resolution, and sometimes the solution came in later chapters.  Yet, this seemed to be the pattern created by the author to engage the reader. My favorite suspense sequence was when “Mr. Toad” escaped from jail dressed as a “washerwoman” and after pretending that he could wash to pay for his ride on a barge, the barge owner, a “fat” woman”, threw him into the water and then he stole her horse and ran away into the woods.  In fact, I felt that the way the author described each suspenseful event in such detail was what truly made the stories entertaining.

The author also used many literary elements; I will focus on the elements of imagery and diction.  I chose these two elements particularly because I believe that they made this book authentic to its author.  Mr. Kenneth Grahame, the author, was born in Scotland yet lived out his life in England. However, this novel was written based on his experiences with nature as a child and to entertain his son.  As a result, Mr. Grahame placed great detail into describing the various settings, experiences and the characters’ actions creating images in my mind as I read.  One specific account of imagery used would be when “Rat” and “Mole” boat down the river at night to find the baby otter in chapter seven.  The text read, “For a space they hung there, brushed by the purple loose-strife that fringed the bank: then the clear imperious summons that marched hand-in-hand with the intoxicating melody imposed its will on Mole, and mechanically he bent to his oars again.” Imagery is used throughout this book to draw in the reader’s imagination and to transport them into the story as Mr. Grahame was trying to do for his son, to amuse his son fully.  I also feel that diction played a large part in this novel; as well it leads to my BIG question. The animals speak using old English, which is speech that sounds very proper to readers’ who do not speak old English, like me.  This resulted in my belief that the characters could really be human and not just animals, staying true to the modern fantasy trait of making the unbelievable, very believable.  Yet, I wondered all the way through the book, do the animals live among the humans or hidden from the humans in their own society?  “Mr. Badger” spoke as if the city of humans was completely separate from his own.  Conversely, the reader was made to think that the warden’s daughter that helped “Mr. Toad” escape from jail was human and interacting with the toad.  

I would recommend that passages from this book be used with students in third to fifth grades, and using the novel as a whole with students above the fifth grade. I believe this because I think Mr. Grahame is wonderfully effective with his use of imagery and it could be used with younger children in parts. However, I think the whole novel would be overwhelming for students in fifth grade and below.  I also feel that this literary work fits nicely with our comprehension strategy of the week- Mark My Word. I, personally, used post-it notes throughout the book to record examples of elements and unknown words.  I could see passages from this book being used in vocabulary instruction.  Specifically, looking at the context of the word and then researching the word on the Internet to find synonyms and antonyms.  Last, posting the word in class for students to use in their dialogues with others.  I tried this with the word, “copse”. The context of the word spoke of stumps at the edge of the “copse”, next to the road.  I knew at that point in the story that “Rat” and “Mole” were in the woods, so I then thought that “copse” must be a synonym for “woods”. Upon further Internet research I found that a “copse” is a small growth of bushes.  If using this example in instruction, I would then create a concept map listing word relationships, then post it in the classroom and challenge students to use the word when writing and speaking. After considering the strategy I also began to think of instructional resources associated with The Wind and the Willows.  Please see these links below!

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