Feb 21: “The Toad and the Mouse”

In Henryson’s “The Toad and the Mouse,” the mouse is trying to reach what is the equivalent of the Promised Land. While the Moralitas makes the symbolism of the animal characters clear, it leaves a more literal interpretation for the characters’ motivation open for readers to decide. What do you think is the mouse’s motivation for reaching the Promised Land? What is the toad’s motivation for trying to drown the mouse? Can a more literal reading of these characters even be applied, or are their motivations simply symbolic?

8 thoughts on “Feb 21: “The Toad and the Mouse”

  1. I reread this story with other fables in mind. There are other tales of animals offering help, then betraying their refugee while halfway across a river or pond. Often the conclusion is that betrayal is jn the nature of the animal and is inevitable.

    This story has a “twist ending”. The toad betrayed the mouse as suspected, but then both were disemboweled and eaten by a kite/hawk/falcon. What’s the moral in that, I wondered. What could I take from that? I feel like the moralitas properly explained these parts individually, but as a whole the story felt empty and obvious.

    But maybe that’s the point. For us, who have heard stories similar to this one time and time again, their morals are obvious. People will betray- it happens to the best of us. Other people will trust blindly at the expense of their own safety. That also happens quite often. And death doesn’t care about either type of people, but more that it can take all people no matter what the circumstance or timing. Death is inconvenient and all-consuming.

    Thus, the fable seems straight forward and overly symbolic. It serves its purpose well and gets across its moral in an easy-to-digest tidbit.

  2. The mouse is desperate to get across the river because she wants to reach the snacks on the other side. She is sick of the hard nuts on her current embankment. The toad appears after she cries to God and offers to swim her across. After hesitation, the mouse agrees and they tie themselves together. The frog tries to drown the mouse and the two struggle, until seen by a bird. The frog’s reasoning for making an attempt on the mouse’s life could be one of moral innuendo and a lesson for the mouse: don’t be so gluttonous and don’t be gluttonous enough to tie yourself to a stranger. I believe the frog’s untimely death is symbolic of one of the Ten Commandments because he tries to drown the mouse, going against “thou shall not kill”. The death of the mouse seemed a little undeserved because she had just almost been drowned and then is disemboweled by a bird just for having the munchies. But the death of the mouse seems symbolic of one of the 7 Deadly Sins of gluttony. It appears as though this fable has religious context.

  3. Perhaps instead of the mouse attempting to reach the “promise land” or “paradise” the mouse is simply trying to live comfortably. The mouse is trying to pass through life as smoothly as possible similar to how the mouse wants to cross a river. The mouse is hesitant of the toad trying to deceive her but then wrongfully believes the toads twisted words. The toad represents the forces that complicate someone’s life and makes it turbulent at times, like an insurance company telling you your policy has been canceled because you missed your payment by one day. However, death spares no one. It will come for the mouse who is trying to live a comfortable life, the toad who is complicating life for others and insurance company agents.

  4. It is difficult to derive meaning from this fable when reading it literally; the tale of the mouse and the toad and the unexpected kite is frankly tragic, but simple. However, when viewed through a symbolic lens, the fable holds so much more than a literal reading could imply. I thought the symbolism of the struggle between the toad and the mouse was especially striking, and especially reflective of views held by the typically religious people of the medieval era. There was great struggle between the body and the soul, this world and God’s, and the depiction of that between the toad and the mouse was a very fascinating display of this age old struggle. The soul is desperate to reach the other side of the river, but is often inhibited by the physical barriers of this world that captivate it and hold it back from its ultimate goal. The symbolism in this fable is striking for its clear depiction of this struggle, and the distinct relation it draws between a toad and a mouse and the world and or own souls.

  5. The symbolism of the mouse as the ‘soul’ and the toad as the ‘body’ implies that they do not have motivation in their actions. The soul must struggle for salvation because this is what it is tasked to do as a human soul in order to become close to god. The soul in christian thought is a pure force, and therefore the use of the soul symbolism gives the mouse only one possible directive. The body truly has no motivation, as it is only a vessel within which human’s are burdened. It is because of the body that human’s feel desire, but this is not through any agency of the body itself. The body exists, and therefore vice exists.
    A literal reading of this fable would be redundant as the purpose of fables is to convey a message through symbolic anthropomorphic story telling. Reading it literally would change not only the meaning but the the entire genre.

  6. I do not think that the mouse was trying to go towards the “Promised Land”, but instead wanting to eat something new that wasn’t available on that side of the river. In desperation to get to the other side the mouse throws away all thought processes and trusts a complete stranger to help her cross safely, which ended up backfiring. I think the mouse wanted to reach the other side because of how different the food is. The toad’s possibly symbolized an unknown force/being that is there just to ruin someone’s day. No other reason except to put someone down and laugh about it a few minutes later.

  7. I agree with everyone else that the literal motivation for the mouse is just to get across to the better food and to live more comfortably, as Michael said. The toad’s literal motivation is a lot less clear, however. To banish the symbolism from the fable entirely renders the toad’s involvement completely impossible–toad’s don’t each mice as far as I know, so she can’t really be after her for that. If the fable had turned out differently and the toad had actually helped, we could say that the toad’s motivation was simply to help. But that’s not viable, either. That being said, I think that literal interpretations of this fable do nothing for it; in fact, I think it renders the fable completely useless. The whole point of fables, after all, is to moralize through symbolism. The mouse’s motivation is understandable in a literal sense, that much is true–and this perhaps because the mouse is supposed to be relatable, supposed to be the one that readers and listeners identify with, while the others are simply outside forces acting upon her. The toad, however, lose all relevancy with a literal reading.

  8. I like the religious interpretations presented above, where the mouse’s motives to reach the promise land, to “feast,” are a symbol of gluttony, while the toad’s attempt to drown the mouse is another representation of one of the seven deadly sins (thou shall not murder). While the mouse’s motivation is simple and clear — to have more food to eat — the toad’s is less so. We do not fully understand why the toad wants to go to the promise land (if she actually does) or why she attempts to kill the mouse. Like many of the other Henryson fables, this one deals largely with death. Perhaps the mouse was being punished for his gluttony, but I took the toad’s attempts as a symbol of how death is sometimes undeserved, since the toad’s motives are unclear and seemingly totally unwarranted. The end, wherein both are killed by a bird, seems to represent the truth that everyone dies the same, no matter how they spent their life.

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