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On the 28th day of July in the year 1866 Helen Beatrix Potter was born in London, England. She preferred to be called Beatrix, rather than Helen. Beatrix grew up having to find ways to entertain herself since she was unaccompanied often. She painted, examined, sketched and wrote. She did not attend a school because a governess educated her. Her family would travel to the Lake District which is where she would sketch. “Her parents entertained many eminent guests, including Hardwicke Rawnsley vicar of Low Wray Church, who in 1895 was to become one of the founders of the National Trust. His views on the need to preserve the natural beauty of Lakeland had a lasting effect on the young Beatrix, who had fallen in love with the unspoilt beauty surrounding the holiday home” (Thurgood). Beatrix formed stories about animals because they were a part of her life. She had many pets and saw animals in the Lake District. “She watched squirrels in the woods, saw rabbits in the vegetable gardens of the big house. She made many sketches of the landscape” (Beatrix). At one point she used a secret code she made up to write in a journal. Beatrix was intrigued by science and natural history. She wrote about and drew plants that she had seen (Pettinger).
The idea of her drawing and getting her work published was supported by Reverend Rawnsley, the man who inspired her love for nature (Thurgood). Beatrix gave an effort to get her stories published but it didn’t happen as quickly as she had hoped. When she was 36 years old her first story was published by Frederick Warne and Company. The assignment of getting Beatrix’s work was given to Norman Warne to work on. He got along very well with Beatrix and they consulted with one another about their ideas for the book. Beatrix and Norman’s relationship grew and they ended up getting engaged. Norman died not too long after that of pernicious anaemia before the two got married (Pettinger).
Beatrix moved to Sawrey, Cambria where she purchased Hill Top Farm. There she came up with many illustrations and ideas for characters. Her stories and characters became very well known. Products were made which had her characters on them, such as toys and pottery. (Liukkonen, Petri.) She met William Heelis and married him in 1913 and they lived on one of the farms she owned. A few years later her father passed away and she was given a large inheritance. She purchased a farm for sheep and dedicated her time to farming and sheep breeding. She wasn’t writing as much at this point because she was busy with other hobbies and being a wife and farmer. She started losing her eyesight in 1918 and it kept worsening to the point where she no longer wrote (Liukkonen, Petri.).
December 22, 1943 was the date that Beatrix Potter died. She gave land to the National Trust such as Hill Top Farm. “This was her gift to the nation, her own beloved countryside for all to enjoy” (Beatrix). In 1964, her journal that I mentioned in the beginning was deciphered and published (Liukkonen, Petri.).Some who have met her or studied her have written books about her life or works.
Overview/ Summary of The Tale of Peter Rabbit
In The Tale of Peter Rabbit there is a little bunny named Peter Rabbit who has three other siblings named Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail. Peter is the disobedient bunny compared to his well behaved siblings. Peter likes to go off on his own and go on adventures. Peter lives with his family “in a sand- bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.” Mrs. Rabbit tells her children where they’re allowed to go and warns them not to go into Mr. McGregor’s garden. But that is just what Peter does. That is how Peter’s father lost his life; Mr. Rabbit went into the garden. While Flopsy, Cotton- tail, and Mopsy are picking blackberries and their mother is at the baker’s Peter goes into the garden. Peter starts stuffing himself with delicious food to the point where he feels ill. Peter searches for parsley when he sees the gardener, who starts chasing him around. A chase is on, Mr. McGregor is after Peter. Peter loses his shoes and can’t remember how to get out of the garden. Next Peter loses his jacket and dashes into the tool shed. Mr. McGregor hears him so Peter quickly jumped out of a nearby window. Peter catches his breath and tries to calm down and Mr. McGregor goes back to gardening. Peter subsequently saw a mouse that was busy taking food to her relatives. Peter attempted to figure out a way to get to the gate by asking the mouse for directions. The mouse has a mouth full of food so she couldn’t speak. Feeling hopeless Peter begins to sob.
Peter began to wander around the garden trying to find his way back to the gate when he saw a white cat sitting looking over into a pond’s water where a gold-fish is swimming. The cat sat quietly, watching the fish. Peter remembered what his cousin Benjamin Bunny said about cats and decided to walk away. Peter heard the noise of a hoe and ran under some nearby bushes. Once he realized he was safe he got onto a wheelbarrow and looked over to find Mr. McGregor working, most importantly right past him was the gate. Peter took a path behind bushes to get out but Mr. McGregor spotted him. He continued to go under the gate and he finally got out of the garden. Peter didn’t stop running until he reached his house. When he did reach his house he walked in and just lay on the floor exhausted. His mother noticed that he had misplaced his clothes and shoes.
That night, the three good little bunnies, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail received a nice meal of bread, milk and blackberries. Peter on the other hand, had to go straight to bed after finishing his camomile tea (Martignoni 46-48).
Critical Analysis- Influences
Beatrix Potter was inspired by the Lake District which is where she traveled to for holidays. She loved animals and the plants all around her. “Beatrix and her brother, Bertram, kept many animals in their schoolroom, from mice to birds and lizards to snakes. Beatrix Potter’s pets were often subjects for sketches and paintings, and were later to inspire to inspire the much loved characters in her books” (Potter’s life).
Beatrix was influenced by Reverend Rawnsley who shared the same passion as her, nature. Beatrix’s parents rented Wray Castle where Rev. Rawnsley would come and visit. He was one of the people who founded the National Trust and he was the one who motivated her to write books and get them published (Beatrix).
“John Everett Millais, the Pre-Raphaelite painter best known for Ophelia, was a friend of Potter’s family and encouraged her work. While her illustrations have none of the gilded ornateness of the Pre-Raphaelites, their influence can be seen in the meticulous attention to detail in her reproduction of nature” (Beatrix).
Beatrix was very sharp-eyed and observant. She looked deeply into the things she drew. It has been said that Beatrix Potter got her inspiration for her characters names from reading names from tombstones in a cemetery in London (Beatrix).
Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit in dedication to a young gentleman who had been sick for a while. Several copies of the story were printed by Christmas time and then many more copies were made because of its popularity and demand (Potter’s life).
Critical Analysis- Main Themes
The main theme in The Tale of Peter Rabbit is that you reap what you sow. Peter Rabbit was specifically told by his mother not to go into Mr. McGregor’s garden. He deliberately disobeyed her and ultimately suffered the consequences. Peter went into Mr. McGregor’s garden and ate so much food that he got very sick. Mr. McGregor saw him and started to chase him all around. Peter got so terrified and was running around frantically trying to get away that he lost his shoes. Peter was trying to find the way out of the garden because while being chased he got disoriented and he lost his way. Peter’s buttons on his jacket got stuck in a gooseberry net fortunately he didn’t lose the jacket all together. But then Mr. McGregor tries to capture him. Luckily, Peter did escape but he lost his jacket in the process.
Peter finally reached his house without his jacket and shoes, worn out from a very tiring day. Peter couldn’t hide the fact from his mother that he was missing his clothing. He did not get to sit and enjoy a nice meal with his siblings that night. Instead, Mrs. Rabbit had to give Peter medicine because he wasn’t feeling very well and she sent him to bed without any dinner.
Peter now has a constant reminder of his disobedience and the bad deed that he did that day in the garden. Mr. McGregor took Peter’s shoes and jacket and used them to make a scare-crow to keep the blackbirds away. Even if Peter’s mother did forgive him, or Peter woke up the next day feeling better that scare- crow will be there day after day always haunting Peter acting as a reminder (Martignoni 46-48).
Critical Analysis- Stylistic Devices
Beatrix Potter uses birds in her writing as symbolism. “Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, the good little bunnies, are accompanied by two chipper, pecking birds who routine busyness seems to represent the humdrum behavior of those cautious three. On the other hand, the bird observing Peter on his dangerous mission has an air of still, sorrowful speculation. He represents, I imagine, the helplessness and concern we feel for Peter (Taylor 95).”
The birds are not brought up in the story until Peter gets caught up in the gooseberry net. Then they go to him and tell him to get up, it’s because of these little birds that he does get up and he runs away right before Mr. McGregor gets him. The little birds watching over Peter are sparrows, not just “garden-variety birds” like the ones that his siblings had. The sparrows also were there when Peter made his escape out of the garden under the gate. They were “like guiding spirits” to Peter (Taylor 95).
The old mouse that is mentioned briefly in The Tale of Peter Rabbit is not able to give Peter directions when he really needs them; her mouth is too full with food. Peter cries, because he was stuck in a bad position, he was trapped in the garden and couldn’t find his way out. “This tiny scene has the exact quality of nightmare: the sense of being trapped and frightened and finding the rest of the world too busy keeping itself alive to help save you (Taylor 96).”
Peter comes to a pond with a white cat facing her back to him. The cat is just sitting peacefully by the pond looking in it spying on a guiltless little goldfish. But Peter recalled what his cousin said…not to go near cats. This sweet little cat, Peter thinks it to be harmful and he turns and goes the other direction (Taylor 96).
Critical Analysis- Characters
The main character in Beatrix Potter’s story The Tale of Peter Rabbit is Peter Rabbit. The naughty little bunny that goes off on his own doing things he shouldn’t. In the story Peter goes into the garden when his mother tells him not do to that. Peter gets into an awful lot of trouble and faces the consequences when he gets home. If he had just listened he would’ve been able to enjoy a nice meal with his siblings. Beatrix chose her characters as animals because she had many pets and saw other animals where she lived and would travel to. “A woman ahead of her time, she saw the potential in her most famous character creating the first patented soft toy in 1903, making Peter Rabbit the oldest licensed character” (Potter’s life).
Peter’s siblings are Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton- tail who listen to their mother and get a nice dinner when they return home from picking berries. Peter’s mother, Mrs. Rabbit, has to send Peter straight to bed when he gets home from his exhilarating quest. I’m not sure how she feels about Peter disobeying her, she doesn’t really express too much emotion in the story.
Mr. McGregor is the gardener who chases after Peter and who also killed Peter’s father. Mr. McGregor was planting cabbages when he saw Peter and started to run after him with a rake. That day Peter went into his garden Mr. McGregor chased Peter multiple times. He didn’t catch Peter fortunately, but he did find Peter’s somewhat new jacket and both of his little shoes. He used those to make a scarecrow.
The little mouse is collecting food for her family and can’t offer directions to Peter when he needs to find his way back to the gate. And the white cat who sat by the pond watching the goldfish were also in the story (The Tale of Peter Rabbit).
Beatrix Potter and The Tale of Peter Rabbit Test
1. Where was Beatrix Potter born? 5. When was Beatrix born?
A) Sawrey, Cambria A) 1866
B) London, England B) 1867
C) The Lake District C) 1868
D) None of the above D) None of the above
2. What did Beatrix like to draw? 6. What was Beatrix’s fiancés name?
A) Plants A) Paul
B) Animals B) Frederick
C) Flowers C) Norman
D) A,B , and C D) None of the above
3. Who bought one of the copies of The Tale 7. Who shared the same passion as Beatrix?
Of Peter Rabbit for his kids?
A) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle A) Reverend Wray
B) Dr. Seuss B) Hardwink
C) J.R. R. Tolkien C) Reverend Rawnsley
D) C.S. Lewis D) None of the above
4. What was in the old mouse’s mouth in the story? 8. What are Peter’s siblings’ names?
A) A grape A) Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton- tail
B) A large pea B) Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton
C) A piece of a carrot C) Cotton-tail, Hoppy and Poppy
D) None of the above D) None of the above
9. What color was that cat in the story? 13. What kind of fish was in the pond?
A) Black A) Goldfish
B) Calico B) Catfish
C) White C) Blue gill
D) Gray D) Coi
10. What was the gardener’s name? 14. What kind of tea did Peter have to drink?
A) Mr. McGreg A) Sweet tea
B) Mr. McDonalds B) Green tea
C) Mr. McGeorge C) Chamomile tea
D) Mr. McGregor D) Iced tea
11. What was Peter’s mother’s name? 15. Where did Peter live?
A) Mrs. Bunny A) In a hole by a tree
B) Mrs. Rabbit B) In an underground burrow
C) Mama Bunny C) In a sand-bank underneath the root of a very big fir tree
D) None of the above D) None of the above
12. How did Peter get wet? 16. What did Mr. McGregor do with Peter’s jacket and shoes?
A) He sat in a wet can A) He threw them away
B) He jumped in the pond B) He folded them nicely and put them by the gate
C) Mr. McGregor sprayed him with a hose C) He handed them back to Peter
D) None of the above D) He made a scarecrow to scare away blackbirds
17. When was The Tale of Peter Rabbit written? 19. What was the main theme in the story?
A) 1902 A) You reap what you sow
B) 1903 B) Good bunnies get nothing
C) 1893 C) Disobeying is the way to go
D) None of the above D) None of the above
18. When was the story published? 20. What was Beatrix’s husband’s name?
A) 1902 A) Michael Heelis
B) 1903 B) William Heelis
C) 1893 C) George Heelis
D) None of the above D) None of the above
Fill in the Blank
21. Beatrix Potter was taught by a _____________.
22. Beatrix wrote in a secret ________ in a _________.
23. Beatrix owned Hill ________ ___________.
24. Beatrix gradually lost her _____________ in 1918.
25. She died in the year __________.
26. Peter Rabbit went into the _________ when he wasn’t supposed to.
27. Peter ran into the tool _________.
28. Peter couldn’t find his way back to the __________ once he was in the garden.
29. Peter was a _________ bunny.
30. Peter had _____ siblings.
Short Essay Question: (2-3 sentences)
What happened to Peter when he returned home and why?
Test Answer Key
1. B 16. D
2. D 17. C
3. A 18. A
4. B 19. A
5. A 20. B
6. C Fill in the blank
7. C 21. governess
8. A 22. code and journal
9. C 23. Top Farm
10. D 24. eyesight
11. B 25. 1943
12. A 26. garden
13. A 27. shed
14. C 28. gate
15. C 29. bad, naughty or disobedient
When Peter returned home his mother had him drink chamomile tea and go immediately to bed. Peter was feeling ill after his adventure in the garden, and eating way more than he should have. As soon as he got home he just collapsed on the floor wiped out from running around all day, being chased by Mr. McGregor and at times, trying not to be seen.
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