Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for thirty-five years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.
Elwood P. Dowd; Harvey by Mary Chase
Harvey the rabbit is a character from a 1944 Pulitzer prize-winning Broadway play written by Mary Chase. The play was adapted into a film in 1950 starring James Stewart and Josephine Hull. The Henry Koster-directed film is the most widely known and appreciated adaptation though it has been remade several times since then. Josephine Hull had won both the Academy and the Golden Globe Awards in the Best Supporting Actress category. The film was remade for TV in 1996 but its ending differed from the original 1950 version. Read further to know about Harvey the Rabbit.
The comedy-drama film is about a 47-year-old, mild-natured man, Elwood P. Dowd, and his relationship with his invisible best friend, a 6 ft 3-and-a-half-inch tall white rabbit named Harvey. Elwood claimed Harvey to be a pooka. The story revolves around Elwood and his ensuing debacle to overcome when his older sister, Veta tries admitting him into a sanatorium fearing he has gone insane.
The plot is a display of belief and the power play between delusion and reality. Throughout the plot, Veta is seen both accepting and denying the fact that she has seen Harvey. She represents that faction afraid to accept the truth but surprisingly lenient enough to accept absurd lies as reality. The director of the sanatorium Dr. Harold Chumley tries to sort out Elwood but in the process starts experiencing interactions with Harvey himself. He accepts the presence of Harvey in private but owing allegiance to his profession he denies his claim. Though it was hard to sort out the situation behind Harvey, viewers could have interpreted it as the delusional hallucinations of a drunk man or the truth of human nature that hides behind the veil.
Harvey is stated to be a pooka. But, what is a pooka?
Pooka or Púca, pronounced Poo-ka, is Irish for spirit/ghost/goblin. According to Celtic folklore, Púcai are creatures with dark hair or fur, that are harbingers of both good and bad luck. They are deft shapeshifters and can assume the form of a horse, goat, cat, dog, or hare. At times they are known to take human form but with animal features like a tail or ears. According to certain sources, the word pooka originated from the Scandinavian word for nature-spirit. Collins dictionary defines pooka as a malevolent spirit.
Thomas Keightley, a famous Irish writer known for his works in mythology and folklore, stated that notions respecting Pookas are very vague. Traditionally local folks believe in the existence of pookas in desolated areas mainly approaching lone unwary travelers in the form of a sleek black colt with luminescent golden eyes. Mythologists suggest that the notions surrounding a pooka’s intention are unbridled. There are stories where Pookas have shown their benevolent side and bestowed people with happiness and prosperity. While in certain cases they are feared as prideful, malicious beings.
However, as represented in the play, Harvey was a benign but mischievous entity, fond of socially awkward individuals like Elwood.
In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.
Elwood P. Dowd
So, the question arises, is it plausible that Harvey was never real but a connotation of Elwood’s drunk delusions?
The play is a blank statement. The writer has left it entirely to the viewer’s perspective. The happy ending with both best friends walking together into the sunrise is a cliché but a hopeful note to good beginnings and ends. Harvey seems to possess bizarre powers but he only passes by as a mildly mischievous spirit. Though Mary Chase has instilled brownies throughout the play inciting Harvey’s role, in reality, nothing can be verified as her directly indicating the rabbit’s presence. Elwood is polite, cheerful, friendly and is known to lend his ears to random strangers who weirdly come to share their lives and secrets with him willingly. This might have weighed down Elwood as an empath and made him imagine a friend who could take over the burden from him.
Veta had accepted the presence of Harvey. Dr. Chumley too encounters Harvey but he assumes an ‘ignorance is bliss’ outlook. A human mind is an exceptional tool, capable of constructing a reality of its own. It stores information and can visualize, change and manipulate it based on its preference. In a way, it is impossible to guarantee if Harvey was reality or a delusion.
But despite every known perception of the audience on whether the rabbit was real or not, the fact remains that it was a just way to exhibit that another free-flowing, unchained imagination was being forced to curb, to create a being confined to the norms of society.
Was Harvey’s friendship with Elwood worth it?
Harvey’s acceptance by Elwood indicates the very pretense of psychology that states humans tend to believe in what they see. The stark friendship that delved between a middle-aged man and a spirit seemed more real than the relationship between Elwood and his sister. Veta and her daughter were seemingly convinced by the fact that Elwood had gone insane. They rather never expressed their concerns on why he was cornered to accept an imaginary friend instead of confiding in his family. The play ends with Veta finally accepting her brother with his insecurities included, which was a win for familial love. Elwood and Harvey’s friendship goes beyond belief and acceptance. It was non-judgemental trust in an individual’s character rather than appearance. Their friendship spoke volumes and transcended boundaries.
Finally, what does Harvey the rabbit represent?
Harvey represents every other truth of society. It boils down to individual preferences on accepting or rejecting the hard-set norms. A deviant does not mean a malignant arm that needs to be cut off. Nurturing a free-thinking society helps individuals maintain their true selves. This ensures a more accepting environment and enables collective growth. Harvey is a symbol of friendship; the freedom of acceptance and individuality.