LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Pinocchio’s Existential Crisis

on February 7, 2013 2:33pm

When the class was informed that Carlo Collodi’s original ending to his classic children’s tale involved the death of Pinocchio, sans resurrection, I believe I heard a subtle, yet collective gasp under the breath of everyone present. We had all grown up on the somewhat scarring Disney version of the children’s tale, but upon reading Collodi’s version, were faced with many inconsistencies that threw us off the image we could all conjure by memory. Pinocchio dying and never having the chance to be reincarnated as a fleshy human child–it’s absurd to think that Italian children everywhere were almost subjected to such an unsettling idea.

Pinocchio’s sardonic wit and dark humor is already hard enough for children to swallow, but the thought of introducing a main character that dies (and isn’t transformed into something religiously or morally symbolic). Pinocchio’s death would’ve been the ultimate sucker punch to the Italian children. It may have had a greater impact influencing children to obey their parents and resist running away from home, but undoubtedly there would be an epidemic of juvenile anxiety disorders.

Collodi, rather, focused on the satire and the farce within the story, avoided the sentimentality that Disney painted over the story with. It seems, then, that Glauco Cambon’s essay on Pinocchio holds true to the fact the Collodi’s tale may not be as appropriate for children as we like to think it is. Pinocchio is an unscrupulous renegade, ready to chase after his most visceral desires–at any cost. He is both at the command and mercy of his pleasures. Cambon recognizes that beneath the surface of Pinocchio, Collodi inserted political and philosophical satire. Perhaps originally, Pinocchio was so overwhelmed with nihilistic angst and existential grief, that Collodi had no other choice but to have him die (again, not to “kid friendly,” in my opinion).

Since the ending was changed, and Pinocchio survives and becomes a real boy, I guess we’ll never know.

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One response to “Pinocchio’s Existential Crisis

  1. Rebekah says:

    We will talk a little more about the Victorian “cult of the child” when we get to Peter Pan, but it is important to note that during and before the Golden Age, the idea of a child dying, pure, innocent, and untouched by the world, was actually something of a fetish in literature. Both children’s literature and adult literature would sometimes feature the drawn-out, beautiful deathbed scene of a child, usually one who would resemble Irene or Ellie. Some of you may have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin- the death of little Eva would be an example of this angelic, beautiful death of a child. It is interesting, then, to think about the ending of Pinocchio in contrast to this common trope. Pinocchio, instead of being a good, pure, sweet boy who gets to die a beautiful, almost celebrated death in a comfortable bed surrounded by those he loves and then goes straight to heaven, ends up hanging from a tree, alone, cold and almost certainly going to hell. In this context, the message to children would be that they need to be good at all times, because they might not have time to confess or repent before they die, and then they will be stuck as a bad child (or puppet) for all eternity.
    No wonder the kids wrote in to the weekly paper and begged for Collodi to give Pinocchio another chance!

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