illustrated portraits of Toad, Mole, Rat, and Badger set against a woodland scene

The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

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What are the symbols in "The Wind in the Willows?"

It is a tale of the adventures of two animals, Mole and Rat, who live in the English countryside by a river. The story basically revolves around four adventures undertaken by the two friends. In their first adventure, they join Badger to find out why Toad keeps disappearing in the middle of the night; it turns out that he has been kidnapped by weasels. In their second adventure, Mole is asked to go back to his home with a message for his friends, but he becomes distracted when he comes upon an old boat and sails down river to revisit places from his past. He is then rescued by Rat and taken back home where they are attacked by weasels again.

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There are a number of symbols in The Wind in the Willows, many of which act as a satire of early twentieth-century England. With many of the characters, such as Badger, Rat, and Mole, symbolizing an upper-class ideology, the novel explores themes such as consumerism, greed, and class struggle.

Throughout the novel, Toad is known to be a wealthy playboy who becomes obsessed with his ego as well as material objects, namely his home and his automobile. He is crafty, though highly arrogant, and serves to act as a symbol for the folly of man. He crashes his automobile and is consequently imprisoned, but he later escapes jail, remains in disguise, and tricks a poor fellow into selling a horse for far less than its worth. He is morally ambiguous and symbolizes the psychological id, the selfish and indulgent side of mankind.

Perhaps the most important symbol in the novel occurs in the chapter "The Piper At the Gates of Dawn," in which Mole and Rat begin an adventure to find a lost Otter child. As they continue on in their boat, they enter a beautiful and mystical land that symbolizes heaven. The two gentlemen become transfixed with a strange, powerful force that beckons them closer: "It was no panic terror—indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy—but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near."

They eventually follow music that is too beautiful to describe and come upon a strange yet magnificent creature. The novel reads, "He looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners." This Piper at the Gates of Dawn symbolizes God, the Creator and Friend who protects and oversees the gentlemen and all animals in the realm of the novel.

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"Wind In The Willows," is a children's novel written during the late nineteenth century.  The novel is also Graham's way of writing a satire about the class structure of that era in England.  The river was symbolic of the freedom of the river animals.  Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger were the "upper-class" and could spend their days in recreation, eating, and enjoying the good life. The wild woods were symbolic of the lower class living areas of the poorer sections of London.  The stoats and the weasels are representative of the lower, working class.  When they take over Toad Mansion, they are demonstrating their disdain for the upper class and what that upper class means.  The Toad, eventual escapes prison and goes to the dark wood.  He enlists the help of his friends and chases the stoats and weasels back to where they belong.  The upper-class in England had many luxuries that the working class did not have. The working conditions during this time were terrible, and the class system controlled the lives of the communities.

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