Study Guide

The Velveteen Rabbit Passivity

By Margery Williams


One evening, when the Boy was going to bed, he couldn't find the china dog that always slept with him. Nana was in a hurry, and it was too much trouble to hunt for china dogs at bedtime, so she simply looked about her, and seeing that the toy cupboard door stood open, she made a swoop.

"Here," she said, "take your old Bunny! He'll do to sleep with you!" And she dragged the Rabbit out by one ear, and put him into the Boy's arms. (15-16)

Well, the Rabbit really lucked into this arrangement. He became the Boy's new favorite toy because the china dog went missing and Nana was too tired to look for it. The Rabbit's just a stuffed animal and he's pretty powerless in this world.

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 cosy, for he was a kind-hearted little boy and he liked Bunny to be comfortable. (26)

Sure, the Velveteen Rabbit likes the Boy, but he doesn't really have any choice except to go where the Boy goes and play what he wants to play. Luckily, the Boy is niceā€¦and not a sadistic monster who likes to cut little rabbits open and watch their sawdust insides spill out.

"Why don't you get up and play with us?" one of them asked.

"I don't feel like it," said the Rabbit, for he didn't want to explain that he had no clockwork.

"Ho!" said the furry rabbit. "It's as easy as anything," And he gave a big hop sideways and stood on his hind legs.

"I don't believe you can!" he said.

"I can!" said the little Rabbit. "I can jump higher than anything!" He meant when the Boy threw him, but of course he didn't want to say so.

This whole exchange reveals how powerless and passive the Rabbit truly is. While the wild rabbits can hop around and dance, the Rabbit can only sit there and watch as they have fun. And the poor little guy just hopes they don't notice how still he's sitting. It's sad really.

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, hidden from sight under the bedclothes, and he never stirred, for he was afraid that if they found him some one might take him away, and he knew that the Boy needed him. (52-53)

The Rabbit can't really do anything to help the Boy, but he is determined to stay with him. He just has to hope that no one takes him away. Really, what would he do if they did? It's not like he could fight his way back to the Boy. He's totally at the mercy of the humans around him.

It was a long weary time, for the Boy was too ill to play, and the little Rabbit found it rather dull with nothing to do all day long. But he snuggled down patiently, and looked forward to the time when the Boy should be well again. (54)

This is sweet because even though the Rabbit is bored because he's lost his playmate (and his ability to move or go outside), he's still devoted to helping the Boy get better. He relies on the Boy to take him places and make him feel Real. He can't lose the Boy if he doesn't want to lose that feeling.

The Boy was going to the seaside to-morrow. Everything was arranged, and now it only remained to carry out the doctor's orders. They talked about it all, while the little Rabbit lay under the bedclothes, with just his head peeping out, and listened. The room was to be disinfected, and all the books and toys that the Boy had played with in bed must be burnt.

"Hurrah!" thought the little Rabbit. "To-morrow we shall go to the seaside!" For the boy had often talked of the seaside, and he wanted very much to see the big waves coming in, and the tiny crabs, and the sand castles. (56-57)

This little guy thinks he's on his way to the sea and he's about the end up in a heap of ashes. And there's nothing the Rabbit can do about it. He can't jump off the bed and run away. Or scream that he's actually Real. He's gonna have to accept his fate.

And so the little Rabbit was put into a sack with the old picture-books and a lot of rubbish, and carried out to the end of the garden behind the fowl-house. That was a fine place to make a bonfire, only the gardener was too busy just then to attend to it. He had the potatoes to dig and the green peas to gather, but next morning he promised to come quite early and burn the whole lot. (61)

And here he is. The Rabbit winds up in a garbage bag just waiting to get tossed on the bonfire tomorrow. Sure, he can wiggle around a little, but there's really no escaping. He may be Real, but he's still just a stuffed animal and that means he's stuck here.

And he found that he actually had hind legs! Instead of dingy velveteen he had brown fur, soft and shiny, his ears twitched by themselves, and his whiskers were so long that they brushed the grass. He gave one leap and the joy of using those hind legs was so great that he went springing about the turf on them, jumping sideways and whirling round as the others did, and he grew so excited that when at last he did stop to look for the Fairy she had gone.

He was a Real Rabbit at last, at home with the other rabbits. (77-78)

Okay, so the Rabbit who spent this whole story being totally powerless and unable to even move without the help of other finally gets his legs. This little guy can hop and jump and play with the wild rabbits. Sure, he was Real before, but now he's not passive anymore. He can make his own choices. Isn't that what being Real is all about?