Essay, Pages 6 (1370 words)
Creating the ideal child
Though the vast majority of tales from the time played a key role in creating the ideal child previously mentioned. It is hard to gauge the extent to which children listened or believed these moral messages however some evidence exists that the tales where reinforced wherever possible by other improving activities such as attending executions. It can be said that the tales of this era were not completely devoid of merit for example they gave lessons of care with fires in an era of open fires.
Tatar claims that they offered children a “program for survival” but this is an overstatement as the tales concentrated on the torments of failing to heed advice given. Perhaps Zipes better summed up the overall messages contained in these tales when he said, “to live, a child had to live properly, restraining natural instincts according to rules established by adults. To disobey these rules or to indulge one’s sensual drives for pleasure meant death”.
The examples in literature
There are many examples of such literature which range from Tom Trindall to the story of The little fish that would not do as it was bid that combine this element of instruction with amusement. Though, a major part is also played by the so-called reward/punishment tales, which portray contrasting characters who are for example kind/unkind, hard-working/lazy and such with the obvious reward coming for the “good” character and some less pleasant fate for the “bad” character (Heinrich, Hoffman and at the horror end of the spectrum Stuwwelpeter).
This moral-based literature was a major part of the socialization mould as it tried to shape society but messages also existed with regard to class attitudes, sexism and racism which would now not be acceptable or should I say politically correct. As Morison puts it “within the staid improving literature of the time the biases are particularly transparent” Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) has some references to blacks, which, while containing a certain element of moral irony, are considered unwelcome in today’s political climate.
It has been said that Kipling’s works generally have clear messages of white supremicism but in particular The Jungle Books (1894-5) where it is surely not by chance that Mowgli ends up as a game warden under the control of British authority. Another such example is that of Helen Bannerman’s The Story of Little Black Sambo (1898), this story though still read now would definitely not be written in this era.
As Morison suggests picking out attitudes from an earlier time is easy with one hundred or so years of hindsight. Obviously the literature of a time is going to run true to the attitudes of the time and “we do not know now what unexpected sins we ourselves may be found guilty of in fifty years time” More worthy of mention is the images and values, which are portrayed in the literature. Bob Dixon in his piece Catching them Young enlists many examples of such portrayals.
As the title of the piece suggests he hunts out racist, sexist and class values within children books that are indeed catching children young and laying out in their mind the way “things should be” so to speak. His many examples include the mass of sexist on goings in the Pony Parade series, Noddy’s assault by the wicked golliwogs and the snobbery of Rev. W. Awdry’s branch line. I think particular attention should be paid here to the issue of the sexist values, which many of the books portrayed.
As Cadogan and Craig put it “before girls are old enough to go to school they are familiar with Polly Flinders, who is whipped for spoiling her nice, new, feminine clothes, with the other Polly who is encouraged endlessly to put the kettle on and take it off again; they learn that Miss Muffet has an irrational fear of spiders, and see how the little girls who are kissed and reduced to tears by the offensive Georgie-Porgie lack the courage to chase him off, and have to wait until the “boys” come out to rescue them”
This is why little girls are little girls
Though to female readers it may seem ludicrous for us to say that this is why little girls are little girls, as they now see themselves in the “girl-power” mode, perhaps this was indeed the case. Girls in this literature were often given passive verbs for example Jane would watch but John he would jump or run. John (typical boy) in our example was outgoing and he was ready to act upon the world but Jane (typical girl) seemed content with her lot. As Dixon put it “Boys do, girls just are”. This may seem harsh to a member of the female population now but these are the images that were portrayed.
We see them backed up by children’s toys, as boys receive action heroes or fighter planes girls are satisfied with ironing boards or Barbie dolls. Claudia Nelson would argue though that the feminine ethic was being promoted even for boys in Victorian times. This ethic of self-control, selflessness and self-sacrifice represented kind of attempted reformation of society. There is no doubt that messages from the wider society existed here but as societal attitudes changed so did those of publishers and this is why many popular works were re-edited.
The broad category defined as literary criticism or more readily referred to as subversive literature offer us messages, which were not appropriate in the culture of the time. An example being Twain’s Tom Sawyer, which reversed the standard model that the good and virtuous boy will succeed. Tom was a terrible boy who done any amount of bad things but to come to no grim end as we had seen in previous stories. Twain in his preface claimed it was for mere “entertainment” but was it?
Lewis Carroll is every bit as subversive as Twain but more subtle, take his famous work of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, Alice is by no means a good little girl in mid-Victorian times. She is not gentle, timid and docile, but active, brave, and impatient : she is highly critical of the adults she meets and of her surroundings. Other examples include Mary Poppins where the parents can’t control their children and the Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand, the bull who would not fight (reference to WWII).
Although this type of literature have hidden in them messages that were not acceptable at the time for one reason or another they do give us insight into a certain category of people’s thinking at the time and are therefore worth mention. Also as many of these classics are reprinted they offer us messages, which are now readily seen in our culture. A further example of this is Astrid Lingdren’s Pippi Longstocking, at the time of its release it was heavily criticised as Pippi wasn’t your standard girl but now it is an international favourite.
Psychoanalysis commonly referred to as Folklore and Therapy
The final broad category, which comes up for discussion, is that of Psychoanalysis more commonly referred to as Folklore and Therapy. Some argue that such tales are culture specific, for example, Darnton finds the stories colleted by Perrault as simply detailing peasant life in eighteenth century France with its Malthusian environment of scarce food and high infant mortality. Bottigheimer maintains that the stories represent historical documents capable of giving an insight to their time in history. Others though see these folk and fairytales as universal multicultural documents; the greatest exponent of this theory is Bruno Bettleheim.
He argues that there are symbols semiotically encoded in children’s literature that can be used as signposts to guide children through their basic problems when growing up. The rules for reading literature in such a way are very much Freudian and are based on his Interpretation of Dreams. In such tales the boundaries of right and wrong and the child’s need to make a choice are central. It seems this is more realistic an approach as in many other tales children are shielded from the “essential nature of mankind and the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety”.