Study Guide

The Velveteen Rabbit Analysis

By Margery Williams

  • Tone

    Earnest & Thoughtful

    Your run-of-the-mill kids' book might be funny or goofy or wacky. But not The Velveteen Rabbit.

    This story is all about love and friendship, so it's no surprise that the tone of the book is honest and reflective. Just take a gander at this lovely passage:

    Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn't mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter. (51)

    The language here is simple as the Rabbit thinks on his life with the Boy. He's actually pondering something pretty intense—what it means to age and change with someone you love—but he's meditating on it with remarkably clear and straightforward words.

    Margery Williams isn't trying to sugarcoat anything here—the Velveteen Rabbit has lost some of his beauty. But she's emphasizing the joys of loving and being loved in return with a whole lot of candor. We almost wonder where else you could talk about a subject like this so simply outside of a children's book.

  • Genre

    Fairy Tale, Fable

    As an adorable children's book, The Velveteen Rabbit straddles the line between fable and fairy tale. It's like a fable because it has all kinds of useful truths and lessons to impart (about life and love and what exactly it means to be "real.")

    It also fits into the category of fairy tale because it features magic and fairies—literally. There are talking toys and animals and a fairy who comes and turns a stuffed animal into a real rabbit.

    Watch out, Cinderella. You don't get much more enchanted than that.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The Velveteen Rabbit gets its name from its main character—a little stuffed bunny made of velveteen. So what exactly is velveteen? Well, it's kind of an imitation velvet. It's also apparently not the most luxurious fabric because the narrator explains that the other toys snubbed the Rabbit because he was "only made of velveteen" (3).

    Wow. Those nursery toys sure were design snobs.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    The ending to The Velveteen Rabbit is a bit of a cry-fest, so you might want to arm yourself with some tissues.

    So, the Velveteen Rabbit has escaped the bonfire and been turned into a Real Rabbit. Yay! Now, it's time for him to check back in with the Boy once he returns from the seaside:

    Autumn passed and Winter, and in the Spring, when the days grew warm and sunny, the Boy went out to play in the wood behind the house. And while he was playing, two rabbits crept out from the bracken and peeped at him. One of them was brown all over, but the other had strange markings under his fur, as though long ago he had been spotted, and the spots still showed through. And about his little soft nose and his round black eyes there was something familiar, so that the Boy thought to himself:

    "Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!"

    But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real. (79-81)

    We're not crying. You're crying.

    So what going on here? Well, this ending is so heartwarming because it shows that the Boy and the Rabbit haven't forgotten each other. Sure, the Boy has gotten better and moved on from his "lost" toy, but he still thinks of his little bunny friend when he sees these wild rabbits wander up. And the Rabbit still feels a connection to the Boy who loved him enough to help him become Real.

    In other words, the Boy and the Rabbit really were BFFs.

  • Setting

    The Boy's House, Circa 1922

    The setting for this story is a little bit tricky. We know that it takes place at the Boy's house and that things are happening around the time the book is published—in 1922—but that's about it.

    Margery Williams was born in England, but she wrote the book when she was living with her husband and children in the United States, so the story might be set in either place. Williams grew up in a farming community in rural Pennsylvania. We could totally see the Boy and the Rabbit hanging out by the woods there.

    Then again, the Boy heads to the seaside after he recovers from scarlet fever, which is a very British thing to do. Plus, there aren't many "seas" in the good ol' US of A, so maybe the Boy lives in the English countryside.

    Either way, the location is pretty magical.

    Inside & Out

    What we do know is that the story takes place both inside and outside the Boy's house.

    Inside the house, the action mainly goes down in the nursery. It's obvious from the story that the Boy's family is fairly well off. They have enough money to hire Nana to take care of the Boy—and his parents rarely have to make themselves seen. The Boy is pretty much swimming in toys. Fancy modern ones, too.

    The Rabbit seems to have a lot more anxiety inside of the house. He has to deal with the other stuck up toys…and Nana's clean-up methods.

    This is also where the Boy is confined when he gets sick. Sure, there are lots of good cuddle times in bed, but it's clear that the Rabbit really prefers outdoor play.

    Outside the house, the Boy and the Rabbit are able to have lots more unsupervised adventures:

    Spring came, and they had long days in the garden, for wherever the Boy went the Rabbit went too. He had rides in the wheelbarrow, and picnics on the grass, and lovely fairy huts built for him under the raspberry canes behind the flower border. (19)

    There's also woods near the house where the Velveteen Rabbit first encounters the wild rabbits. Yeah, the wild rabbits are a bit salty with him but, overall, the great open outdoors is a whole lot freer for the Rabbit. He gets to leave the confines of the nursery and see more of the world. He's not sitting at the bottom of some toy box. He's out doing things. He's playing games. He's talking to wild rabbits. He's being Real.

    Book Epidemic

    The Boy's illness is a pretty big moment in the story. It's also historically really important:

    And then, one day, the Boy was ill.

    His face grew very flushed, and he talked in his sleep, and his little body was so hot that it burned the Rabbit when he held him close. Strange people came and went in the nursery, and a light burned all night and through it all the little Velveteen Rabbit lay there. (52-53)

    Scarlet fever was a big, scary deal in the early 20th century. Remember, this was before the discovery of Penicillin: you couldn't just run to the doctor and get some antibiotics to wipe out the nasty bacteria inside you.

    Scarlet fever was bad because it mainly affected children under ten years old. Even if you recovered, you might have life long complications. (This is exactly what happened to Beth March from Little Women.)

    The doctor's instructions to burn the toys that the Boy had touched were actually in keeping with the thoughts at the time. Scarlet fever was super-contagious and it wasn't worth risking the lives of someone else in the house just to keep a little stuffed bunny…no matter how Real he was.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    Sea Level (2)

    This book is written for little kids, so the language and subject matter are pretty easy to understand.

    Of course, just because a story's aimed at children doesn't mean it's basic. The Velveteen Rabbit is about some big topics: the way that love transforms us; the bonds of friendship we form. Those are ginormous issues, packed into a book about a little bunny.

  • Writing Style

    Gentle & Sincere

    Margery Williams' writing style is about as soft as velveteen in this story. Her words are ultra heartfelt and mega compassionate. You can feel her empathy for the little Velveteen Rabbit in just about every paragraph.

    Check out this one:

    He thought of those long sunlit hours in the garden–how happy they were—and a great sadness came over him. He seemed to see them all pass before him, each more beautiful than the other, the fairy huts in the flower-bed, the quiet evenings in the wood when he lay in the bracken and the little ants ran over his paws; the wonderful day when he first knew that he was Real. He thought of the Skin Horse, so wise and gentle, and all that he had told him. Of what use was it to be loved and lose one's beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? (63)

    That's some deep stuff right there. Not only is this character in a children's book contemplating his own death (yikes!), the author is really taking us through his thinking in the most heart-wrenching way possible. She's presenting the Rabbit as such a figure of gentleness and compassion. How do you not feel sorry for him?

    There are not a lot of children's authors that could pull this style off without coming off as morbid, but Margery Williams totally nails it.

  • Realness

    The Velveteen Rabbit wasn't worried about keeping it real; he was too preoccupied about becoming Real.

    The Skin Horse explains the process here:

    "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "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."

    "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

    "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

    "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

    "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. 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." (6-10)

    That sounds very deep. And kind of confusing. So what is Real exactly?

    Well, there are a couple kinds of "real" in the story. The Rabbit is literally real in that he's an actual object. He's a toy that the Boy can touch and play with so he's part of reality. But when the Skin Horse talks about Real (with a capital R) he's talking about realness on a whole different level.

    That kind of Real is different than just existing. It means that the Rabbit becomes a true and authentic version of himself when he's loved. By opening himself to the Boy's friendship, the Rabbit is able to feel a full spectrum of emotions like hope, joy, sorrow, and loss. He learns that love can be the most incredible feeling in the world and also the most heartbreaking. That's pretty dang Real.

    The last kind of realness in the story is when the Rabbit is turned into an actual wild rabbit. Yes, the Velveteen Rabbit was Real in a lot of ways. He could love and feel things, but he couldn't move or express his emotions to others. When the Fairy turns the Rabbit into a wild rabbit, she gives him the ability that the other rabbits have—the freedom to dance and play and choose his own path. Now he can hop along where he likes.

    In the end, the Velveteen Rabbit becomes fully and truly Real because he was brave enough to open his heart to another person. Love can be a scary thing. But it can also be one heck of a journey.

    Way to keep it real, little guy.

  • Classic vs. Modern Toys

    People love new things. New phones. New cars. New toys. But in the case of the Velveteen Rabbit, newer isn't always better.

    When the Rabbit first arrives in the nursery, he runs into all kinds of new-fangled toys who really think a lot of themselves:

    He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. (3)

    These guys think they're all that plus a bag of chips because they having moving parts while the Rabbit is more classically made. He knows that he's just got imitation velvet fur and is stuffed with sawdust. Plus his sawdust filling is "quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles" (3).

    All right. So he's not the hot toy this season. No one is going to be standing in line for hours to get themselves a velveteen rabbit on Black Friday.

    The Skin Horse is in the same boat. This guy is practically an antique. He belonged to the Boy's uncle and is falling apart from being loved and played with so much. Neither the Velveteen Rabbit or the Skin Horse are flashy, exciting toys, but they're both built to last. Something the modern toys can't say:

    [The Skin Horse] was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. (4)

    Not only that, but classic toys are more likely to achieve Real status:

    "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become [Real]. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept." (10)

    These modern toys are like the latest fad. They'll be gone before by next season. The Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horse will be around for a long time though. Sure, new and modern things may have their benefits, but in this case, classic wins hands down.

  • Seasons

    For everything there is a season, right? That's true for the Velveteen Rabbit, too.

    His story begins on Christmas Day—in winter. The Boy doesn't play much with him and he snubbed by the other toys in the nursery. It's kind of a cold and dreary emotional scene to match the season.

    But things really start to pick up when the weather gets better:

    Spring came, and they had long days in the garden, for wherever the Boy went the Rabbit went too. He had rides in the wheelbarrow, and picnics on the grass, and lovely fairy huts built for him under the raspberry canes behind the flower border. (19)

    And as the days grow longer, things get even jollier:

    Near the house where they lived there was a wood, and in the long June evenings the Boy liked to go there after tea to play. He took the Velveteen Rabbit with him, and before he wandered off to pick flowers, or play at brigands among the trees, he always made the Rabbit a little nest somewhere among the bracken, where he would be quite cozy, for he was a kind-hearted little boy and he liked Bunny to be comfortable. (25-26)

    In the spring and summer, the Boy and Rabbit can go outside and explore. They can escape the confines of the nursery and learn more about each other. With the warmer weather, they also share warm moments of friendship and love. Aww.

    It's no surprise that the Boy gets sick towards the end of summer and stays ill as the weather turns chilly in autumn. The cold weather brings more sadness with it. Later, after autumn and winter have passed, the Boy meets the Rabbit outside again as a wild rabbit in the springtime.

    It's clear that the seasons change as feelings change. Some days are bright and happy and joyful and some days are sad. It's all part of the cycle of life.

  • Illustrations

    The Velveteen Rabbit is a beloved enough children's book that it's been illustrated, over the years, by a wide variety of talented artists. From Maurice Sendak to Sarah Massini, everyone wants to get their hands—or their colored pencil, pen, or watercolors—on the Velveteen Rabbit.

    But the O.G. illustrations of The Velveteen Rabbit came from William Nicholson. They're sparse, colored only in yellows and reds and greens, and filled with shadows. And if you said "Huh: "sparse, colored only in yellows and reds and greens, and filled with shadows" sounds pretty grim for a kid's book," well, you'd be right.

    These illustrations aren't meant so much to be pored over as to convey emotions. And, like the content of the book itself, the emotions these illustrations convey are deep adult ones. Being Real isn't always a walk in the park, and the Real World as exhibited through Nicholson's illustrations is one filled with melancholy and nuance.

  • Narrator Point of View

    Limited Omniscient

    Our story is told by a narrator who sees things pretty much only from the Velveteen Rabbit's point of view. In the literature biz, we call that a limited omniscient narrator.

    It's actually really effective because the reader only sees what the Rabbit sees. It works especially well when the Boy gets sick and the Velveteen Rabbit only catches glimpses of what's going on in the room, and makes the whole oh-no-the Rabbit-is-about-to-become-barbeque reveal a whole lot more impactful. The Rabbit doesn't see it coming…and neither do we.

  • Plot Analysis

    Exposition (Initial Situation)

    Keeping It Real

    The Velveteen Rabbit is a stuffed bunny who comes to live with the Boy on Christmas morning. The Rabbit meets the other toys in the nursery and finds out from the Skin Horse what it takes to become Real. It's all very mysterious, this "becoming Real" process.

    Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

    Boy and Bunny Besties

    One night, the Velveteen Rabbit winds up sleeping in the Boy's bed and becomes his favorite toy. They slowly grow into best buddies and they have tons of good times together. Eventually, the Rabbit hears the Boy say he's Real.

    Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

    He Gives Me (Scarlet) Fever

    The Boy gets sick with scarlet fever and the Velveteen Rabbit stays by his side throughout his illness. Luckily, the Boy recovers but then the Rabbit learns that all the Boy's toys will need to be burned. That means him.

    Falling Action

    Burn, Bunny, Burn

    The Velveteen Rabbit waits to be thrown on the bonfire and looks back at his life as a stuffed animal. What was the point of being Real if it was all gonna go up in flames like this in the end? This makes the Rabbit so sad he starts to cry.

    Resolution (Denouement)

    Fair Fairy Magic

    The Rabbit's tear summons a Fairy who tells the Rabbit that she will make him Real to everyone now. She kisses him and turns him into a wild rabbit. The Rabbit is then free to frolic and play with the other wild rabbits in the woods behind the Boy's house. He runs into the Boy months later and the kid even recognizes him, but doesn't realize that his old toy bunny has become a Real rabbit at last.