Reading the Tale of Peter Rabbit to my infant daughter earlier, it struck me how the whole thing is basically a depressing, nihilistic story concerning the futility of popular resistance.
We hear how Peter’s father was captured in Mr McGregor’s garden and put in a pie by the tyrannical gardener, leaving Peter’s mother to raise her children alone. The poor broken woman urges her offspring to stay well clear of the McGregor premises, whereupon Peter immediately defies these instructions and heads straight for the garden. Doubtless he intends to avenge his father’s death, carving a trail of destruction through McGregor’s vegetable patch and destroying the long cultivated flowerbeds.
In the event McGregor spots him and immediately sets off on an unreasoned and obsessive pursuit of our hero, from which Peter barely escapes with his life. In a final insult, McGregor impales Peter’s coat upon a pole and sets it in his garden to serve as a grim warning as to what he will do should he ever catch the wretched rabbit.
In this tale, McGregor resembles the tyrannical state to Peter’s defiant everyman. It is not enough that McGregor has already destroyed Peter’s family and condemned them to a life of poverty, denying Peter the right to grow up with the father figure he so desperately needs, for if the rabbit even attempts to salvage a scrap of dignity the gardener will be upon him with a rabid mania intent upon denying him his very existence. There are no limits to the terror to which McGregor is prepared to subject Peter, for the gardener is completely without remorse or compassion.
And there is nothing that Peter can do about this, for McGregor is stronger, better prepared and equipped with a ruthlessness that Peter cannot even comprehend. All he can do is hide in the woods, keeping to the shadows, nursing a burning hatred and desire for vengeance which can never be quelled, only suppressed until at last he learns to accept his inferiority and realises the best he can ever hope for is that the gardener forgets he has ever existed in the first place.