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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In The Wind in the Willows, what is the tone?

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Tone refers to an author's attitude regarding a particular subject. It is more often than not conveyed to a reader through word choice. Tone is closely related to mood, but mood refers to the emotions and feelings being evoked from a reader. The Wind and Willows is a children's book, so that should guide your initial tone brainstorm path. It's not likely for the tone of a children's book to be acerbic and accusatory. Two tone words that I often associate with this story are "playful" and "animated." The characters in the book are so lively and filled with energy that a reader can't help but feel the author's love for things like play and nature.

The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

I also think that the tone frequently carries a sense of enthusiasm. Passages sound energetic and excited, and they carry with them a real sense of carpe diem.

Take the adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ‘Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained and the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for company.

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The tone of this excellent children's book (which yet has so much to offer for adults) is playful, reverent and passionate. This of course mostly comes from the dominance of the Mole as one of the central characters. The novel in a sense explores Mole's friendship in the new society he has joined and the various "ecstasies" he discovers as he experiences more and more of river life. Note the following quote that describes Mole's enjoyment of river life in the very first chapter:

Absorbed in the new life he was entering upon, intoxicated with the sparkle, the ripple, the scents and the sounds and the sunlight, he trailed a paw in the water and dreamed long waking dreams.

Such quotes expressing Mole's enjoyment of life and his playful, childlike enthusiasm, dominate the novel, expressing perfectly the playful and passionate tone of the text, which of course allows Grahame to use animals as characters to explore human feelings and emotions.

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