The Wind in the Willows written by Kenneth Grahame is a piece of children’s literature that satirically focuses on social structure in the eighteenth century in England. The author was inspired by the social and economic changes brought about by industrialization in English villages, towns, and cities.
The book reflects on four personified animal characters: Mole, Ratty, Toad, and Badger and their reaction to the radical change in social attributes. The author also conveys and tries to legitimize distinctions between wealth and social classes in England.
Distinctions Between Wealth and Social Classes in The Wind in the Willows
River Bank is outlined as an upper-middle-class suburban area where Toad, Mole, Ratty, and Badger, who are good friends, inhabit. They live unrestrained and leisurely life free from the obligations of the working class.
Toad is depicted as wealthy and prominent in both the River Bank and Wild Wood communities. His wealth came about through the inheritance of money and a house from his father Mr. Toad. His character is a typical image of the people in the upper class. Rat describes Toad to Mole as coercive, extravagant, and an arrogant individual. Rat says, “Perhaps he is not clever” “we cannot be all geniuses, and it may be that he is both boastful and conceit” (Grahame, 13). He is also ignorant and judgmental in that he shouts to the lady giving him a free ride after the prison escape, “You common, low, fat barge-woman! Do not dare talk to your betters like that”.
Mole is the newest resident in the River Bank. He comes into reality with his new societal position after acquiring a new place to live. This is demonstrated when he says to Ratty, “all this is so new to me, so this is a river!” He was absorbed in the new life he was entering upon, intoxicated with the sparkle, the ripple, the sounds, and the sunlight as he trailed a paw in the water and dreamed long waking dreams. He previously resided in Mole End – an old, dirty, and dull area considered as low class. It is a symbol of working-class roots.
Ratty who lives by the river is the first person to meet and welcome Mole to the River Bank suburbs. He often enjoys “messing about in boats”. He offers a boat ride to Mole, sharing with him a picnic. He, later on, invites Mole to stay for the night at his house. Ratty, known to be the River Bank singer, takes in Mole and shows him how he can fit best into his new middle-class neighborhood.
Badger is a fearless and solitary character, who commands respect in all social scenes. Badger lives among the wild haunts and untamed boundaries of Wild Wood. He acts as a gatekeeper between the upper-middle and low class, thereby controlling the social order.
This is illustrated by Rat who says, “Dear old Badger! Nobody interferes with him. They would better not”. At the end of the novel, he is feared by the Weasels who quieted their young by telling them, “If they did not hush them and not fret them, the terrible gray Badger would up and get them.”
Importance of Middle-Class Norms and Values in the Novel
The low class is represented by individuals from the Wild Wood including Stoats, ferrets, and Weasels. There was social segregation between the upper-middle and low class, whereby in the quest for new places, Mole asks Rat on Wild Wood and he replies, “We do not go over there much, we the River bankers”.
The Wild Wood individuals were subjected to poor standards of living and were often exploited by factory owners and businessmen. They showed anger and bitterness for the upper class since they considered them leisured and self-seeking. This is demonstrated when Toad is imprisoned where they take over and overrun Toad Hall.
Mole represents the author who was in a quest for self-discovery in 1884. He lived near the River Thames, in an upper-middle-class suburban area where during the summertime he leisurely roamed by the riverside (Hunt, 1994). In the course of roaming about he got new friends of similar social caliber – Toad, Ratty and Badger. With the advent of Industrialization in England, the upper class was obsessed with new technologies such as cars, which resulted in their self-destruction, which included accidents and imprisonment.
This is seen when Toad became obsessed with new technology. There was a divide between upper-middle and low class; the latter overran the already vulnerable upper-middle class. The Wild Wood lower-class individuals wanted to feel the luxury of being in an upper-class home, which was characterized by an unrestrained and leisurely lifestyle. The upper class later regains control with the help of the middle class, whereby with the help of their friends they reclaim the Toad Hall. The obsession with new technologies continued in the upper classes but in a controlled manner.
Grahame depicts society as having been influenced by the turn of the eighteenth-century view about life in the countryside. He also analyses the importance of middle-class norms and values, which have helped to regulate and define the identity of society for generations. From Grahame’s perspective, the bank of the river is associated with the luxury enjoyed by the middle class, which through nature’s inspiration plan on how to control the social scene. The middle class has authority over the low and upper classes. They check and control the boundary between the upper and middle class maintaining the social order.