Study Guide

Winnie-the-Pooh in The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh

By A. A. Milne

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Warm and Fuzzy, Emotionally Speaking

Pooh is the epitome of comfort. He's literature's version of a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with mashed potatoes, crusted in chocolate chip cookies and crumbled over a slice of apple pie (try it sometime, put you right to sleep.) You just want to give him a big squeeze because, well, he's soft and fuzzy.

But also, he's emotionally cozy. What do we mean? In short, he's both a loyal and dependable friend for each of the characters in the book, and a conduit for a stress-free worldview that influences us, the readers. Let's start with how his character works as part of the ensemble cast in the Pooh stories.

How Do We Love Thee... Platonically

Milne tells us how important Pooh is right away, and not just by making him the title character. In the Introduction, he writes: "Pooh is the favourite, of course, there's no denying it." (Winnie-the-Pooh.Introduction.3), and so we are automatically primed to love everything about him. Time and again, Pooh proves to be a thoughtful friend, a helpful bear, an adventurous companion, and a cute little fella.

Who wouldn't want a friend like Pooh Bear? To begin with, he's up for anything, which is what makes him a great companion for Christopher Robin. Like when he spots CR donning his big boots before the expedition: "Pooh knew that an Adventure was going to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw, and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything" (Winnie-the-Pooh.8.6).

As wonderful as this is, Pooh remains a kind of side-kick to the young boy. That image of CR dragging Pooh "bump, bump, bump" (Winnie-the-Pooh.1.1.) down the stairs resonates through all the tales, in which Christopher Robin leads and Pooh accompanies him. The stories are so engaging that it can be a jarring change from the Pooh of the stories, who seems as real as can be, to that image of him as just a stuffed toy.

Our Hero!

But there's much more to Pooh than being an eager toy, and to see this side of him we can look at his relationships with the other animals in the Forest, among whom he emerges as quite the leader. He's a wonderfully empathetic and caring friend to all them.

When Eeyore loses his tail, for example, Pooh announces grandly, "I, Winnie-the-Pooh, will find your tail for you." (Winnie-the-Pooh.4.20). Tigger finds his place in the Forest because Pooh vouches for him: "Pooh explained to Eeyore that Tigger was a great friend of Christopher Robin's, who had come to stay in the Forest" (House.2.74). And when Piglet gives his house up for Owl, Pooh immediately comes to the rescue and opens his own doors to his friend.

In the end, Pooh ends up being a hero in many of the tales. After all, in spite of some clumsiness he is the one who thought of rescuing Piglet in a boat. He did fetch the pole to pull Roo out of the river. And when he, Piglet and Owl are stuck inside of Owl's fallen house, who do they look to for a plan? Let's go to the tape: "'What are we going to do, Pooh? Can you think of anything?' asked Piglet" (House.8.82). That's right—Pooh Bear in da house!

The Perfect Imperfections

Let's be honest, Pooh is not without his faults. He can be simple at times. Like... all times. But Milne uses his ingenuity as a way to communicate broader moral and philosophical ideas (check out "Theme: Life, Consciousness, and Existence" for more on that.) And maybe he's a little vain? Christopher Robin tells our narrator that the bear likes stories about himself, "Because he's that sort of bear" (Winnie-the-Pooh.1.12-14).

Pooh is guilty of a little bit of pride, even when he's in the midst of some of his silliest moments. Let's take a moment to see what he thinks when he accidentally eats Eeyore's birthday present.

So he sat down and took the top off of his jar of honey. "Lucky I brought this with me," he thought. "Many a bear going out on a warm day like this would never have thought of bringing a little something with him." And he began to eat. (Winnie-the-Pooh.6.62)

Or how about when Christopher Robin decides to throw a party for him? "He began to wonder if all the other animals would know that it was a special Pooh Party, and if Christopher Robin had told them about The Floating Bear and The Brain of Pooh, and all the wonderful ships he had invented and sailed on, and he began to think how awful it would be if everybody had forgotten about it, and nobody quite knew what the party was for" (Winnie-the-Pooh.10.13).

And how about his whole thing with Honey (See "Symbols") He goes to visit his friend Rabbit, and stuffs himself to the point of getting stuck in the door?! Pretty selfish if you think about it...

...But then again, he got stuck. In the door. Now that we do think about it, it's just plain funny. And when he gets anxious about the other animals recognizing his accomplishments? Well, that's just too darned cute to be cynical about for long. You see, Pooh's few faults are an essential part of his innocence. It's genuine, pure, always optimistic, and always well-intentioned. For that, Pooh's shortcomings are just as charming as his strengths. In this way, Pooh is a great example of one of Milne's overarching themes—you are who you are, and that's all right with him.

For the Kids

Taking a step back to think of Pooh in the context of young children—this is Children's Literature after all—we should think about why his fumbling bumbling charm is so powerful both for Christopher Robin as a character in the book, and for the child readers who have loved him for decades. We're guessing it has something to do with the fact that young children usually want to feel empowered. If Pooh weren't so naïve, he'd be a little less predictable and comforting for Christopher Robin, who gets to be the advisor, caretaker, and guide to all the animals in the Forest. Check out our analysis of CR for more on this.

And when we think about the kids reading this book, we realize that by being able to see one step ahead of the protagonist and his often silly thoughts and plans, children are always in the driver's seat when they read this book, even they're being read to. So Pooh's simple-mindedness is both a source of humor for the readers, but also a source of confidence. 

Winnie-the-Pooh in The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh Study Group

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