The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies plays the necessary role of character advancement in Wit. Vivian the narrator introduces us to this story while explaining her choice to study words, “I can recall the time, the very hour of the very day, when I knew words would be my life’s work.” (Edson 41) Vivian goes on to say that on her fifth birthday she knew she loved words and discovering their meanings. Instead of taking the book at face value, I thought of it as a device, attempting to use backward reasoning. I asked myself what would happen if The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies was not included in Wit. From there, I was able to identify its function in the storyline.
The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies has a good amount of complicated language even though it is a children’s book. We are introduced to this fact when young Vivian attempts to read the word soporific and stumbles over the pronunciation. Her father helps her with it and then defines it for her. Vivian continues to read and discovers that the picture shows exactly what her father had said. “The illustration bore out the meaning of the word, just as he had explained it. At the time, it seemed like magic.” (Edson 43) This starts her career in words and leads her to the poetry of Donne. From the excitement she showed learning the definition of soporific, it is easy to understand Vivian’s fascination with Donne and words like, “ratiocination, concatenation, coruscation, tergiversation.” (Edson 43)
From five years old, Vivian defines herself by challenging words and literature. She does not have any family or friends save her mentor, E.M. Ashford, and seems to have spent most of her life alone. The introduction of the father shows him as aloof to the point of uncaring. The stage directions sum up Mr. Bearing’s attitude, “Disinterested but tolerant, never distracted from his newspaper.” (Edson 41) The reader never receives a full understanding or explanation of Mr. Bearing’s behavior but that can possibly to understood as Vivian’s disinterest in others. She never wonders why her father acted like that, she just knows her did and moves on. There is no mention of a mother. Vivian does not seem to have anyone to identify with and I think this leads her to identify most closely with books and words.
This understanding makes Vivian’s reaction to her diagnosis a bit more believable. Instead of focusing on the fact of being diagnosed with stage four cancer, she focuses on the words that the doctors use. It gives her comfort to define words and break them apart to gain a better understanding of their meaning. During Doctor Kelekian’s explanation of her disease, Vivian has her own conversation as the doctor is talking. As he is saying, "The Antineopaltic will inevitably affect some healthy cells..." Vivian is thinking this in her head, "Antineoplastic: Anti: against Neo: new. Plastic: to mold, Shaping. Antineoplastic. Against new shaping." (Edson 9) This is only a part of her inner monologue. In fact, the reader gets the impression that Vivian is not playing attention to the doctor as all. Wit and words are her defense and this passage shows her using both to shield herself from the awful truth that Doctor Kelekian is explaining in such a detailed fashion.
“My only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary.” (Edson 44) Vivian says that when she is explaining the foundation for her love of words. This quote shows more about her character and about the inclusion of the The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies to the play. I believe Vivian means this quote quite literally. She seems to take most things as face value and does not have a true emotional connection to anything except for words. She has not lived life so much as gone through it. She has no emotional defenses. This attitude of hers is seen most fully during her discussion with Dr. Ashford about Donne’s poetry. Ashford is attempting to emphasize the importance of punctuation to get at the meaning of the poem. “Nothing but a breath, a comma, separates life from life everlasting.” (Edson 14) Vivian completely ignores that idea and instead takes her own somewhat superficial meaning, “Life death…I see. It’s a metaphysical conceit. It’s wit!” (Edson 15) She does not see the emotional meaning in the poem and completely glosses over the achingly true meaning of the poem. It seems she is only learning the meaning to Donne’s poem when she really is a breath away from death.
In conclusion, I believe that The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies places an intrinsic role in the understanding of Vivian’s character. Without the story it would be difficult to understand her ideas as anything more that cynical. Actually, my first reaction to her was that she was cynical but the children’s book along with analysis in class allowed me to understand Vivian and her ideals better. The story allows me to connect to Vivian on a personal level, which though she might have gone her whole life not needing, I thrive on emotions. Her strength and seeming uncaring can turn people off from her but the reasons why she acts like that help in the overall understanding of her as a character. Without The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, our understanding of Vivian as the main character of Wit would be limited.