James Thurber: Analysis of “The Rabbits Who Caused All the Trouble” and “The Moth and the Star”

James Thurber’s short story “The Rabbits That Caused All the Trouble” was published in 1939, first in The New Yorker and then in the author’s own journal. The plot revolves around animals living on an island, namely wolves and rabbits, with the former getting the upper hand because they think their way of life is the true reality. As a result, all-natural disasters are blamed on the rabbits because, according to the dogs, their biological disparity makes them the perpetrators of any devastation that the island has faced. When the rabbits try to escape this violence by the wolves imprison the rabbits, telling other animals that they have eaten the victims, because “this is no world for escapists.”
The story is an allusion to imperialisms, of not only that time i.e. fascist regime of Nazi Germany, but to colonialism that existed since centuries. The biological difference of the wolves and rabbits that led to the wolves claiming that the latter is to be blamed for every mishap alludes to the white man’s burden. It alludes to the history of anthropology that believed in ranking people according to their size of their heads and concluded that the white people are far more superior to other civilizations. This was the reason why in the 18th and 19th centuries Native Americans were brutally deprived of all their land and their lives so that the European conquerors could rule. The British Empire with its violent colonialism that spread from Africa to Asia, believed that the lives of natives in the country that they conquered were beneath them, that they colonizing cultures and intellect were beyond them, and this was because the white man’s way of living was the only way. This resonates with the wolf’s treatment of the rabbits, and the deductions they made from the differences in the appearances. “it is well known that rabbits pound on the ground with their hind legs and cause earthquakes”, “it is well known that lettuce-eaters cause lightning” etc. show how this culture of superiority of the wolves led to the injustices that they caused against the rabbits and simply got away because of their flawed system of thought (Wilson 211-234).
As colonialism and imperialism and they violence they perpetrated was justified by the civilizing mission, so was the wolves. The colonizers used structural and physical violence to deprive civilizations of their economic and cultural resources, and justified it as being a civilizing mission. Their excuse was that they will bring the natives at par with the truth of life that they believed was it. Like the wolves see the rabbits as criminals, as the people who should be removed, similar was the stance of imperialism.
The rabbits try to run away from the system that was structurally designed to marginalize them, but other animals, who were not facing the same systematic violence shamed them for being cowards. They claimed that “This is no world for escapists” and forced the rabbits to stay. Other animals tell them that if the wolves will threaten the rabbits again, all other animals will unite against the wolves to protect the rabbits (Mueller).
Different power structures can be seen in this. The rabbits are at the lowest level of the hierarchy, marginalized in the society from all levels. Other animals however, do no face the same level of marginalization, but they become spokesperson, despite not experiences the same violence and structural injustice. The rabbits in a position of weakness agree to the animals’ proposition and stay in the system. However, with the next flood, the wolves blame the rabbits again, as “it is well known that carrot-nibblers with long ears cause floods”, the wolves decide to imprison the rabbits, “for their own good”. This again resonates with how the colonizers punished the natives to civilize them and justified all violence on the basis of the civilizing mission. The power structure is such that when asked from the other animals about the rabbits, the wolves lied that they ate them because rabbits were trying to escape and the world is not for escapists (Dreier 231-244).
The publishing of this short story in 1939 is a proof that the allusion is to not only colonization in the earlier century, but also to the conditions of minority Jews in Nazi Germany. The wolves are the Nazis and the rabbits, the minorities, who can only be freed if they escape, but the system doesn’t allow them that too. Hence, in a short story that goes beyond a children’s short story, the author explains the historical contrast of imperialism whose traces can be still found today.
In the same period, another story, The Moth and the Star by the same author was published. It is a story about a moth who wants to reach the star and attempts to fulfill his ambition every day. He is stubborn, yet patient and very determined, and does not give up despite his parents telling him off for going to the star as they want the moth to stay around the street lamps only.
This story draws a lot of contrasts. The streetlamps depict the ordinary life that is safe and familiar domain, where the star that is out of reach is unfamiliar. For a lot of people the unfamiliar would be scary, but for the moth it is what is inspiring, and what is to be achieved, to conquer fears. The gender roles in this story also depict the society’s understanding of gender, the female moths go around house lamps and the males, around street lamps, pertaining to tradition and to the familiar.
While the previous story was about a deeper lesson in historical violence, this story also sets a lesson, not about the historical context, but about the context. One of the main similarities in both these stories is about listening to people. In the first story, the rabbits listened to the other animals and stayed behind on the island not completing what they set out for, only to find themselves imprisoned for life. In this story, the moth does not listen to anyone, not his peers or even his parents that were similar to him in appearance and his context too. He was ambitious to the brim so much that even though he could not reach the star because it was so many light years afar, he was a satiated moth that lived until the old age. The moth was mocked by his own father when he said “You haven’t burned a wing in months, boy, and it looks to me as if you were never going to. All your brothers have been badly burned flying around street lamps and all your sisters have been terribly singed flying around house lamps. Come on, now, get yourself scorched! A big strapping moth like you without a mark on him!” He left his father’s house to live his own life but did not give up on his dreams.
Even though both these stories were published in the same time period, with the difference of just one year, 1939 for The Rabbits who Caused all the Trouble and 1940 for The Moth and the Star, both the stories give a very different feeling. While the first story narrates a colonial set up, the second one is about achieving your goals despite adversities. However, a similarity about these stories is on the theme of way of life. The wolves in the first short story pushed the idea that their way of living was the truth of life. In the second story, the moth and the star, the moth’s parents push their way of living on the moth, telling him that their traditions, their way is the ultimate truth. While the moth denies that truth and searches for his own, even when he can’t reach that, he is proud of the fact that he has tried and is satisfied in how he spent his life becoming his own self. Because the moth fled to find his own truth, he lived a long time while his family, his parents and siblings were burnt by the light of the lamps in young age. At old age, he thought that even though he did not fully reached the star, his attempt for all his life could be translated to him reaching the star and so he could tell others that he did. The moth did exactly that and was satisfied (Capps and Haupt 63-70).
The motifs used in these stories are quite different. While the first one uses the biological differences, the civilizing mission etc., the second one uses the motive of the star and scars to symbolize what achievements mean for everyone. The notion of achievements hence, is subjective. It can be assumed that the first story, The Rabbits who caused all the Trouble is meant to be for grown-up audience, as it alludes directly to violence and marginalization of minority. On the other hand, the moth and the star is meant to be for younger audience who can be told to be free in what they dream and what they aspire for. However, the latter can also be used for young adults who are in the phase of making important decisions about life and are facing resistance for letting them be.
These stories are about setting examples too. The rabbits in the first story listened to the animals who were not facing similar contexts and held a relatively more powerful position in the society and met with their doom. They set an example about doing your own thing by sacrificing their population on the island, which furthered the power of the powerful (the wolves) and strengthened the structural, systematic violence. The moth on the other hand, set an example by not paying heed to even his own family and set an example in a positive direction. He showed that by being persistence and by believing in your own self first you can get what you head out to get. It is not to say that people should do whatever they want without moral values, but that if you know that what you look for is morally correct for your own survival and does not harm anyone, you ought to do it.
This essay is an attempt to compare and contrast two short stories by James Thurber, to propose that both these stories albeit set in different contexts have thematic similarities and use these thematic similarities to make a larger point. This point is that one ought to do what he or she deems correct without getting influenced by other people. This is because the responsibility of one’s actions comes directly onto themselves, even if the system is flawed.

Works Cited
“The James Thurber Audio Collection [Eaudiobook] / [James Thurber].”. Wheatland.sk.ca. N.p., 2017. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Wilson, K. “Old Imperialisms And New Imperial Histories: Rethinking The History Of The Present”. Radical History Review 2006.95 (2006): 211-234. Web.

Mueller, J. “Temporality, Sovereignty, And Imperialism: When Is Imperialism?”. Politics (2016): n. pag. Web.

Dreier, P. “Power Structures And Power Struggles”. Critical Sociology 5.3 (1975): 231-244. Web.

Capps, Donald, and Melissa Haupt. “Achieving Our Goals In Life”. Pastoral Psychology 61.1 (2011): 63-70. Web.

“Interpretation Of The Rabbits Who Caused All The Trouble Essays”. Megaessays.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

“The Moth And The Star – Referat, Hausaufgabe, Hausarbeit”. Referate und Hausaufgaben – Lerntippsammlung.de!. N.p., 2017. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

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