Student Essay 3: In Search of Lost Time (December 1995)

A Rediscovery of The Velveteen Rabbit

by Mark Syler

Children are constantly looking for security in an unsecure world, whether it be from a parent, sibling, friend or object. When I was little I had a small blanket that I always slept with. I cannot remember where the blanket came from, but I refused to part with it. When it had accumulated several large holes, through wear and tear, and my parents tried to get rid of it, I only wanted it more. Finally, somehow my parents managed to get rid of the blanket, and in order to appease my anger and distress, they gave me a small red pillow to keep in bed. In the same situation, alittle boy in The Velveteen Rabbit Margery Williams Bianco was given a stuffed velveteen bunny.

My grandparents live on a farm in Indiana and when I was about five or six they gave me two black rabbits (a male and a female) as Pets to keep and care for on the farm. I was so happy because at the time rabbits were my favorite of all animals, and now I had two. After a time, the rabbits had a litter of 15 babies, and suddenly I had 17 rabbits to care for. Six months later something tragic happened. The temperature was unseasonably cold one night and the rabbits were not covered properly and they all died. My grandfather didn't want me to be too upset, so he told me they had to go to heaven that night because someone else needed them more than I did, but I knew what had happened. To understand it better (from a childs mentality) I referred to the heaven they to as "Bunny-land".

Eventually my family moved to Virginia and one day in the third grade the librarian read The Velveteen Rabbit to all the third grade classes. Then we saw the movie. As may be imagined, this experience struck home to me. I was so excited to come back to "Rabbit-land".

Now that I have taken the opportunity to look back at this children's book that a cursory glance would label as simple entertainment to a child, I see a complex story that dramatizes real life events and emotions in a child's world. The Velveteen Rabbit has themes which include: 1) becoming one's self; 2) developing positive human relationships; 3) coping with a dynamic changing world (3).

A major theme is becoming of self, as depicted by the rabbit in his yearning to become "Real". The rabbit deals with "one of the most pervasive conflicts within the self - the Philosophical question, What is Real, Good, True, and Beautiful" (3). In the story, the rabbit is discriminated against by all the "mechanical toys" and is befriended by the old and wise Skin Horse. The Skin Horse acts as a mentor to the rabbit and helps explain reality to the rabbit who is living in the very confusing milieu of a nursery. The Skin Horse tells the rabbit:

"Real isn't how you are made . . . It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real. It takes a long time. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand (1)

As time wears on, the rabbit does undergo these changes, the boy grows ill, and the rabbit is thrown away as dangerous. He and the boy are parted. But now that the rabbit is alone, he misses the boy and begins to cry Real tears. Then the nursery magic Fairy appears and takes the rabbit to the woods and among the real rabbits she heals the velveteen rabbit. It is here that the rabbit reaches the highest level of Real and achieves full becoming. Now that I am older this reminds me of Pinocchio who has to go through an ordeal before he becomes "real."

The next spring the rabbit goes to see the Boy playing and the boy looked at him and thought, "Why he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!" The boy never knows the truth about this "new" rabbit, but the rabbit knows what happened. We can say that it was the continuing memory and loyalty of the boy that kept the rabbit alive and healed him.

The Velveteen Rabbit has been called "an allegory about human love and human childhood" (3). Children are thrust into the same situations that the rabbit finds himself in. Children are often left alone; they are made to feel inadequate and unhumane or not quite real, not "like others," i.e., the adults in the house or when they are picked on and teased by other children who are bigger than they are. The childrn must then find someone to bolster their confidence and sense of selfhood as well as something to build upon and to make their own. They need someone to look up to, and the rabbit finds this in the Skin Horse. The rabbit finds himself daring to believe in what the Skin Horse tells him, and when the boy declares him to be Real, the rabbit realizes that the Skin Horse was telling the truth. When the real rabbits teased him, it hurt him, but he finds comfort in the continuing love of the boy and reciprocates with loyalty when the boy becomes sick. The rabbit is cast out to be burned. Then although the rabbit finds himself away from the boy, he makes his way back to show the boy he has not forgotten him. He finds the boy has not forgotten either.

Margery Williams Bianco has more than a personal tie to this story. It was her first book for children, and she wrought it out of her memories of her toys as a child. It also came out of her experiences with her children. She writes as a mother from the point of view of what children go through without being able to voice their experiences and shows the adult reader what children go through and how toys and animals are an important part of children's lives (4).

Upon rereading this book 14 years after I read it in the third grade, I find I have many memories of my pet rabbits, my little blanket, and seeing the movie that day in school. I look back now seeing how all children have their own velveteen rabbit, blanket or security object that they depend upon, and how much a part of children's development that object is. This book has so much about life that it was uncanny to read it. The Velveteen Rabbit deals with serious themes like self-esteem, what is friendship, the importance of loyalty and love in such a delicate way that it does not lose its childlike value as entertainment and wonder. It also asks the question, What is Real? Which is what children wonder about and have to distinguish from their imagined desires when they grow up. Thanks to this "rediscovery" I mean to read this book to my children as it is a map for childhood.

Annotated Bibiography

  1. Bianco, Margery Williams. The Velveteen Rabbit. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1922
    This book is the story of the velveteen rabbit where the love of a boy brings a rabbit made of velveteen and sawdust and thrown away to life.
  2. Blount, Margaret. Animal Land: The Creatures of Children's Fiction. New York: William Morrow & Company Inc., 1975.
    Blount covers many different stories. The portion of the book which covers The Velveteen Rabbit summarized themes of the book and offered a brief summary. Blount also connects the stories about the rabbits to real life situations children face.
  3. Ehle, Maryann. The Velveteen Rabbit, the Little Prince and Friends: Posacculturation through Literature. Professional Clinic Association of Teacher Educators, 1982.
    This article discusses posacculturation and deals with the power of literature in deepening understanding and appreciation of the self and others. It relates such "lessons" to The Velveteen Rabbit and what the author regards as the most pervasive conflicts within the self-- What is Real, Good, True, and Beautiful?
  4. Meigs, Cornelia, Anne Eaton, Elizabeth Nesbitt, and Ruth Viguers. A Critical History of Children's Literature. London: The Macmillan Company, 1969.
    I use the sections of this book that dealt with dolls and toys in a child's fantasy life. The authors also discuss and relates the works of Margery Williams Bianco to her life.

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