In contrast to his earlier stories and tales featuring human children, Kenneth Grahame used animal characters to express his feelings and often dichotomous views of his society. Their mother’s early death, followed by desertion by an alcoholic father, resulted in the Grahame children being shunted from family member to family member. Therefore, the concept of a stable, permanent home as a refuge from the world is important to each character. Food and shared meals also have symbolic pertinence.
Denied by his uncle the Oxford University education he assumed would lead to a literary career, Grahame entered the world of banking. Although he rose to become secretary of the Bank of England, he retained resentment against the mercantilism of the time. Always the repressed bohemian, he counteracted the real world of encroaching blight and social upheaval by creating an Arcadian world in which loyalty and friendship are paramount, evil is readily recognized and ultimately overcome, and tranquillity through connectedness with nature reigns supreme.
Several chapters are particularly relevant to understanding how Grahame worked out his inner conflicts in the novel. Attracted to the “Southern mystique,” he made many journeys to locales less strictly structured than his own. In “Wayfarers All,” Rat entertains a passing Sea Rat and, enthralled by the wanderer’s tales, is ready to start a new life by migrating. Mole, however, restrains him and effects a “cure” by encouraging him to write poetry instead.
“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is more complicated. Rat and Mole set out on the river to find Otter’s missing child, little Portly. Following the haunting music of pipes, they discover Portly sleeping between the hooves of Pan. They are in awe and actually “worship the Friend and Helper,” making clear Grahame’s deep spiritual commitment to pantheism.
(The entire section is 458 words.)