Analysis of The Rabbits

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					Analysis of The Rabbits

                                   Analysis of The Rabbits
                                        Grades 5-6

The Book:

Marsden, John. The Rabbits. 2003. 0-9688768-8-9. This simple but powerful allegory describes
the results of most of the colonizing in the history of our planet. The spare text and stylized
illustrations tell the chilling story of invasion, cultural subjugation and environmental destruction
in simple terms. This is an excellent opener for discussion at many levels.


The Rabbits is an allegorical story that can make many people uncomfortable. It shows an area,
place, or country being overrun with rabbits and that is ultimately devastated by the
environmental impact. Most people see in the story the overtaking of the Americas by the
Europeans and the loss of land by the Aboriginal people. This is clearly implied on the page that
says, “And they stole our children.” The story probably is actually referring to Australia, since
that is the country of publication, and it is even more appropriate there, since the county has
actually been overrun by rabbits as well a taken over by Europeans.

Students need to have some background knowledge and preparation for reading the story, which
is very short. They need to have some knowledge of such elements as the European arrival in the
Americas and their rise to dominance, Aboriginal land rights, the stolen generation (residential
schools), and the growing degradation of the environment. The story shows a different
perspective than the usual one about the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. Some people are
upset by the apparent truths in the story, others say they feel responsible for the losses suffered
by the Aboriginal people, yet others (non-Aboriginals) feel they are being blamed for something
they didn’t do and still others feel that overall, the settling of the Americas by Europeans was
good for both Europeans and Aboriginal people. Clearly, this very short story raises a lot of
issues. It’s great for use with an older, more aware group of students.

People react in widely different ways to this story. Some say it makes them feel uncomfortable.
Some say it is too heavy handed. Some say it romanticizes the Aboriginal past as perfect and the
invading Europeans as the cause of all that is now bad in North America. Some say Aboriginal
people will use it as an excuse for their problems. Some non-Aboriginal people say it blames
them for something they didn’t do. Some say it gives Aboriginal people more fuel for anti-
European sentiments. Some say – well it happened, so let’s move on.

Some teachers feel that the use of this book with Aboriginal students is inappropriate, while
others feel that it’s very useful because it tells the story from the Aboriginal perspective.
Teachers will decide for themselves, based on the needs of their students, whether and how to
use this book.
Analysis of The Rabbits

Analysis of The Rabbits:

If given an open-ended situation, students will be able to discover on their own many of the
following elements in the text and the illustrations. Having several copies of the book would be

Analysis of Illustrations:

             There are many numbats, which are a small termite-eating Australian marsupial
              with a black and white striped back and a bushy tail. They may be symbolic of the
              many Aboriginal people. On one page there are many buried numbats.
             On flags, eight arrows pointing in all directions may symbolize the colonization by
              the “rabbits.”
             The storm cloud symbolizes change.
             Clocks symbolize time and measurement of time as brought by the Europeans, an
              alien concept to people who had always depended upon a natural sense of time.
             Rabbits symbolize Europeans and numbats symbolize Aboriginals
             Arrow and number marking on clothing
             Beef with butchering lines symbolize the efficient raising of beef for food
             Cold looks on rabbits’ faces symbolize hunter or mastery and wary looks on
              numbats’ faces symbolize hunted.
             More and more rabbits in the illustrations and fewer numbats as the book progresses
              symbolize the growing European population and diminishing Aboriginal
             What other symbolism can be found in the illustrations.

Analysis of Text:

             Rabbits are portrayed as destructive.
             Point of view of the writer and illustrator is that the rabbits are destructive,
              particularly of the land.
             Rabbits are building an ever more powerful empire.
             Rabbits are taking over the natural environment.
             Story depicts the idealism of colonization.
             The last page seems to leave the Aboriginal people with little hope.


             How does the point of view of the writer and illustrator differ from most texts about
              the coming of the Europeans?
             What are some of the issues raised by this book? (Colonization, War over
              territories, Overpopulation, Residential schools, Environmental degradation)
             In what ways do you think the story is an accurate depiction of events? In what
              ways does it over-simplify or exaggerate?
Analysis of The Rabbits

Comparing Stories:

The following three books can be usefully compared to The Rabbits, and to each other.

Cherry, Lynne. A River Ran Wild. 1992, 0152163727. The story of a river, from the first people
thousands of years ago, how people came to depend on it, used it, abused it, polluted it, and
finally cleaned it. Beautifully illustrated, and powerfully presented, his book is a classic in
environmental studies
Trottier, Maxine. Voyage of Wood Duck. 1995, 978-0920336700. Long ago when dreams were
more real than they are today; there was a young boy who lived by the sea. He was called Wood
Duck. He wanted to voyage across the sea, but when he did so, he longed for home, and also had
premonitions about the people he met to the east of his Atlantic seacoast home.
Yolen, Jane. Encounter. 1992, 015201389X. A Taino Indian boy on the island of San Salvador
recounts the landing of Columbus and his men in 1492.

Compare The Rabbits with Encounter. How are they similar? Different?

Compare The Rabbits with River Ran Wild. Use a Venn Diagram. How are the endings of
Rabbits and River Ran Wild different?

Compare Rabbits with Voyage of Wood Duck. How are they similar? Different?

Compare Encounter with Voyage of Wood Duck. How are they similar? Different?


Students may want to develop a debate over some of the issues. A central question might be:

        “In what ways has the coming of the Europeans changed the lives of Aboriginal
        people? Include both ‘good’ changes and ‘bad’ changes.”

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