Winnie-the-Pooh | Study Guide

A.A. Milne

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Winnie-the-Pooh | Chapter 4 : In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One | Summary

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Summary

Eeyore is in his thistly corner, depressed and gloomy: "Sometimes he thought sadly to himself 'Why?' and sometimes he thought, 'Wherefore?'" He is glad to see Winnie-the-Pooh, if only to complain. Pooh notices Eeyore has lost his tail. Eeyore is convinced it has been stolen. "Somebody must have taken it ... How Like Them." Pooh pledges to find the missing tail and goes to consult Owl, for Owl "knows something about something." Owl lives in a house so grand it has a door knocker and bell pull. Signs instruct visitors on protocol; the signs were written by Christopher Robin, for he alone can spell.

After ringing and knocking, Pooh explains the predicament to Owl. Owl, using long, impressive words, advises Pooh how to find Eeyore's tail: "the customary procedure in such cases ... ." Pooh is distracted and dreams of his mid-morning snack as Owl drones on. He invites Pooh outside to read the notices Christopher Robin has written. Pooh notices Owl's bell pull. It occurs to him that it looks familiar, and when he learns Owl just found it in the forest, he realizes it is Eeyore's tail. Christopher Robin reattaches it to Eeyore, who is uncharacteristically buoyant. Pooh goes home for a snack and makes up a celebratory song.

Analysis

Eeyore's gloom is both amusing and sad. Through Eeyore Milne explores how sadness can render a character invisible. Eeyore has made himself into such an outsider that Owl fails to notice his elegant bell pull is actually his friend's tail. Milne once again turns everyday adult language comedic when it is spoken by Eeyore: When Winnie-the-Pooh asks, "And how are you," Eeyore responds, "Not very how ... I don't seem to have felt at all how for a very long time." Children don't typically ask, "How are you?" which turns out, when Milne plays with it, to be a nonsensical question.

The implication is Christopher Robin goes to school, and in this story readers see him learning to write. The signs on Owl's house are written in the invented spelling and capitalization of a five-year-old. Such spellings and capitalizations would be apparent to older readers and are reinforced by Shepard's illustrations. If read aloud, however, the jokes go flat; explaining them would yield little about language. Yet other wordplay is clear to all; for example, when Owl explains how he found Eeyore's tail hanging over a bush and thought it a bell pull, Pooh explains that Eeyore was attached to it.

Milne's delight in the absurdity of show-offy words and turns of phrase is abundantly apparent in the characterization of Owl, known for his supposed wisdom and the character to whom Pooh turns in crisis. Yet Owl is all big words and puffery: "the customary procedure ..." which Pooh hears as the "customary proseed cake" must be explained in simpler, everyday language. As Owl pontificates, Pooh listens less and less, nodding and smiling as people do when being addressed by a know-it-all who has his cohorts believing in his wisdom and thinking the correct spelling of his name is WOL. Milne does humanize Owl though; the wise bird admits he can't spell and goes to pieces over "delicate words like MEASLES and BUTTERED TOAST." But the verbal and situational irony lies in the misspelling of his own name.

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