LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Pinocchio as a Comedy and a Tragedy: Is it Appropriate for Children Today?

on February 7, 2013 2:44pm

Ann Lawson Lucas, the translator and author of the introduction and notes in The Adventures of Pinocchio, described the essence of the novel perfectly when she aptly stated, “In Pinocchio, the emphasis is on comedy, yet tragedy is present to a significant degree.  These adventures entail danger, fear, loss and grief, and there is a great deal of death in the book.  …Pinocchio is about growing up.” (Pgs. xli-xlii)  I whole heartedly agree with this assertion and this summation of the story Carlo Collodi weaved about the misadventures and life lessons of this little wooden boy, Pinocchio deals with very adult issues that are not sugar-coated nor masked, though they are occasionally softened by the silliness of talking animals or growing noses.  When attempting to discern the appropriate age this text should be recommended for it is extremely difficult because even though the problems the novel addresses and the plot twists it takes can very justly be considered ‘adult’, they are also arguably a fundamental part of growing up and learning how to, through literature, deal with problems and plot twists of life – something that I believe is essential for young readers.

     Pinocchio kills a talking cricket who comes to haunt him as a ghost, he finds a fellow child when he is lost in the woods who claims she is dead, he suffers starvation, imprisonment, and being hung, he discovers the tombstone of his closest friend, he is blamed for the murder of a fellow school mate, Pinocchio is almost eaten, he witnesses his father’s drowning, sees his best friend-turned-donkey labored to death, and he has to work extremely hard to financially support his ill father as well as the gravely ill fairy/mother figure he has come to love.  This is more than one person should or could even bear in a lifetime yet Pinocchio endures all of this in just a few short years.  As we follow and suffer with him the many misfortunes and tragedies Pinocchio experiences there are times that even I thought, this is too much, too far, and not for kids, but yet, simultaneously I understood the lessons Collodi was trying to impart upon the intended readers and I also acknowledge how very valuable it is to learn, through our little wooden puppet, how to deal with life and death, to learn that lying leads to trouble, and “those children who rebel against their parents…will never do well in this world, and sooner or later they will bitterly regret what they did.” (Pg. 12)

Ann Lawson Lucas helped to bridge the gap that history has made between the reading of this book by children in 1883 and today, and the different life experiences that shaped and influenced the novel Collodi has written.  She says,

“A century ago death was a commonplace of every day life, Collodi had ample experience of it himself, especially among his siblings and through the early death of his father.  Perhaps the deaths and griefs in Pinocchio were a way of confronting children’s worst fears.  Although shocking and unpalatable to modern taste, they have an important function in the balance of the narrative: the joy is more joyous because of the survival through the experience of sorrow, and conversely the story is constantly pulled back from frivolity by the depth of serious emotion evoked.” (Pg. xlii)     I agree, though the story is fantastical and fraught with silliness and surprising circumstances, it addresses very real issues, issues that may not be as present in the life of children today, but regardless, everyone in their lifetime will experience death, every child will be tempted by their own version of the “Land of Toys”, every child will tell a lie or misbehave, and they will witness or endure poverty.  Though the delivery of these life lessons and experiences by Collodi may not be as softened, or palatable, as readers might expect or be accustomed to today, many of the themes and teachings in The Adventures of Pinocchio still endure in contemporary culture.  The website GoodReads, a place for book sharing, reviewing, and recommending, rated Pinnochio for those ages five and up and though I can’t see many parent wanting their five year old to read, “They strung him up to dangle from the branch of a big tree…He had no breath left to say anything else.  He closed his eyes, opened his mouth, straightened his legs and, giving a great shudder, hung there as if frozen stiff, “ right before bed I still would agree with this rating. (Pg. 48)  Pinocchio is unapologetically a story that is both comedy and tragedy, it is, as Glauco Cambon described it in Pinocchio and the Problem of Children’s Literature, a book that “has to do with the education of a child, both through the traditional humanist instrument of classroom and books and through the school of hard knocks.” (Cambon, Pg. 54)

In short, Pinocchio is about growing up, which all children have to do one day.


2 responses to “Pinocchio as a Comedy and a Tragedy: Is it Appropriate for Children Today?

  1. While reading the tale of Pinocchio, it caused me to wonder the same thing as Catherine, was this a comedy or a tragedy? And what was Collodi trying to impart towards his young readers? While I cannot ask Collodi himself what his main message was in writing this book, I agree with the idea that this was a story about growing up, but more specifically, how to grow up. Catherine made an excellent point highlighting the extremely difficult things that Pinocchio was subjected to along his journey, but sympathy was certainly not the first thing that came to my mind when Pinocchio kept putting himself in situations that rendered nothing but misfortune. I was at a crossroads for much of the book of whether I should feel angered by his inability to learn or sympathy for not understanding that he was consistently making the wrong choices. Upon considering these juxtaposing ideas, I began to see an even bigger moral than being obedient, but that all actions come with consequences. I believe this lesson goes beyond all other morals discussed in the book because it demonstrates that every decision a child or adult makes, there will be a reaction to his or her action.

    It is true that every child will at some time or another experience loss, distress, and give in to the temptation of their peers, but in the instances where a child is given the opportunity to choose from right and wrong, Collodi makes it known that there will always be an outcome for their decision. Collodi’s extreme situations involving being hung, killing, and being thrown in prison may cause concern for older readers about how appropriate this book is for a younger generation, but in the end, Collodi highlights something bigger, and that is that we are all responsible for our actions. It became less important to me whether this was a comedy or a tragedy at the end of our journey with Pinocchio because I now see these literary classifications as tools that Collodi has used to help impart a bigger message to his audience, which has certainly helped my appreciation for this classic.

  2. kevinmgriffin says:

    I cannot help but to agree with almost everything stated in this post, and I appreciate your evaluation of a proper age level reading of this story. I found that Glauco Cambon’s analysis, “Pinocchio and the Problem of Children’s Literature,” really hit the nail on the head for the most part concerning how this tale may be duly applicable to children and adults of the time period. He states, “Pinocchio’s world is a microcosm of the adult world as seen through the eyes of an enterprising child. The complexity of actual life dawns on the child’s simple mind, and there is nothing wood in that simplicity” (Cambon 55). I agree that there are several harsh realities that must be learned by Pinocchio and that some may seem a bit too severe for a young, impressionable mind. However, in trying to imagine myself as a younger reader, I never once found the plot twists to be too heavy for the lesson to still be maintained.

    Cambon continues, “The world of work, the world of crime, the world of entertainment and the world of nature alternate or fuse with the world of magic fantasy with surprising ease, thanks to Collodi’s handling of his narrative strings.” (Cambon 55). As a student reading this story, I can understand how some of the unfortunate circumstances that befall Pinocchio may seem humorous and entertaining to adults while somewhat horrific to children, but I do not see this in any way hindering the overall necessity of a story like this. I believe that the difference in interpretations of this tale come from the fact that adults reading this text have already passed through the gates of childhood into adulthood. They’ve, for the most part, already learned these lessons in order to leave childhood behind and become the “real boys” of their time. I believe that the trials that Pinocchio faces were necessary in order for him to learn to put his childish wants aside, and children can really take something from this story in learning to become adults willing to serve more than just themselves. At this point, it’s obvious to a young reader that there will be a time when it is necessary to make this transition. “When he learns that there are limits to desire, and that nothing comes for free, Pinocchio becomes an adolescent boy in flesh and blood and the story is over” (Cambon 54). I believe that this transition is facilitated by the fun, magical story of Pinocchio and his several trials.

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