LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

To Be a Puppet or Not to Be a Puppet…That is the Question

on February 14, 2013 9:35am

What does transitioning in and out of puppethood mean? Pinocchio spends almost the entire novel in a puppet state, and throughout the book he has ample opportunity to exert his free will and do as he pleases.  He is constantly disobeying the authority/parental figures and instead acting out on what he thinks to be his own desires.  However in the same token, while he is actively disobeying and rebelling against figures like the Wise Cricket, he is also being manipulated and used by others, predominantly the Fox/Cat team and Lampwick.

So what is Pinocchio’s deal?  Is he endowed with free will and a mind to think for himself, or is he merely a piece of wood?  I found myself wondering this throughout the text, does puppet Pinocchio have a brain, a conscience, a soul?  His actions seem to reflect an ambiguous nature, his rebellion, and his subsequent regret, seem to point to at least brain activity and possibly a conscience.  But then his redundant proclivity for falling prey to others seems to hint that maybe his seeming stupidity is not his own fault but stems from the fact that he is indeed a wooden puppet.


In the last chapter, Pinocchio finally becomes a “real boy”.  In this state, he is now making decisions on his own, and we can with little doubt believe that he will no longer fall prey to manipulators, he now has a brain, a heart, a soul filled with reason, that will help him discern how to act like a proper “real boy”.  In saying all of this, it seems that, in the end, Collodi’s use of Pinocchio’s transformation from puppet to boy, in retrospect, points to the correlation of his transformation from immoral to moral child.  However, it’s interesting that Collodi chooses to give Pinocchio some glimpses of a conscience and some sense of morality even in his puppet state.  Which Pinocchio will children relate to more?  Is it better to be a puppet or a real boy?  In one sense the answer is obvious, yes it’s better to be a real boy, as in this state Pinocchio finally comes into his true self and reaches his happy ending.  But on the other hand, why does Collodi spend so little time in Pinocchio’s real boy phase?  Does he believe that children are more like wooden puppets and through hardships and lessons finally transform into “real” children?

(All the illustrations are from Roberto Innocenti’s illustrated edition, among all the other editions, this one really captures the nature of the story amazingly!  To see these images larger and more from Innocenti’s version, here’s a link that has more images:


3 responses to “To Be a Puppet or Not to Be a Puppet…That is the Question

  1. Your question regarding whether Pinocchio has a moral center/conscience/brain really got me thinking. I hadn’t considered the issue of the puppet having a brain until you mentioned the point that is constantly being tricked and manipulated over and over again. In this sense, it would appear that Pinocchio does not have a brain of his own or, if he does, it is extremely undeveloped. At the same token, though, Pinocchio does seem to reveal kindness and sincerity, especially in the scene where he ensures that Eugene is okay after he was hurt. Pinocchio also is genuinely upset when he discovers that the blue fairy child died as a result of his never returning. Perhaps the puppet is born with a soul but not a brain. Yet, he excels in school – which would not make sense if he were brainless. Maybe puppets are just missing a portion of the brain where gullibility reasoning lies. To me, Pinocchio is not simply a puppet made from wood. He is a complex being who experiences desperation, anxiety, remorse, excitement, and love. He undergoes a massive transformation and endures many challenges and struggles. Through these trials and tribulations, Pinocchio’s character learns many lessons and his values shift from selfishness and laziness to compassion and working hard. As a result, Pinocchio does indeed become a real boy with both a heart and a brain. His character is completely developed and he can now live happily with his father. Children who read this novel can learn much from Pinocchio. It is important to get an education and work hard – being idle and only wanting to have fun leads to immorality and unhappiness. Children also learn to not trust strangers and to not be fooled by misleading people. Finally, I think the most important lesson of Pinocchio is that of unconditional love. It is this love that saves Pinocchio over and over again.

  2. I like that you brought up the idea of how Collodi could be using Pinocchio as a metaphor for how he saw children. I think that by saying he viewed them as puppet like when they are younger because they have less of a conscience and less of a will to do the right thing and then once they grow up that they are transformed into a real child is a great way to read the novel. I think that could explain the reasoning for having Pinocchio be a wooden boy; He has a mind but it is not fully shaped and developed into the “grown up” or “human” like state yet. By having Pinocchio go through various trials can be juxtaposed to the growing up and learning process of a child to an adult. I feel that through this reading, the novel makes more sense and explains that Pinocchio is more than just a piece of wood.

  3. ahaleyxxx says:

    Even though Collodi clearly says that Pinocchio becomes ‘a real boy’ at the end of the tale, it would be interesting to read his transformation as maturing into an adult. Pinocchio is, of course, only a few years old when he becomes a human boy and still looks like a child in all the illustrations, but the ways in which he has to improve his personality to earn a human body also seem like ‘growing up.’ This would help address the uneven development of his personality, as discussed by the above posts.
    Pinocchio excels in school, so he must have some kind of a brain, but he constantly falls for simple deception. Learning to think rationally and shrewdly about social interactions happens much later than school/book learning as we develop, so Pinocchio’s development is actually pretty true to human patterns. His repetitious pattern of rebellion and repentance is also normal for children, but he enacts it on a grand fairy-tale scale rather than the everyday disobediences that most children soon regret. Most children run away to the bottom of the garden for a few hours until they get hungry and come back repentant whereas Pinocchio runs off for two years of adventures, but the idea is the same.
    However, Pinocchio exceeds merely subduing his rebellious urges – he actually begins to work and support his ailing father. Children certainly would have been working to help their families at the time the tale was written, but children would also have been considered adults much earlier. Pinocchio commits himself to work, learning and family – very adult behavior –and is rewarded with a human body. The puppet-to-human transformation could be read as an allegory to the child-to-adult transformation: the amoral, careless wild thing has to behave in certain responsible ways to become the superior form.

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