LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Thoughts on my paper

on March 21, 2013 1:44pm

In my final paper, I plan to talk about sibling families. The Five Children and It and Peter Pan and Wendy are British Golden Age works that feature groups of siblings going on adventures, rather than a solitary protagonist. I will be including The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis in my discussion. I intend to show that, under the stress of separation and adventure, groups of siblings form a replacement nuclear family structure in the absence of their actual parents. The older siblings will act parental, while the younger siblings will defer to them for protection and love.

LionWardrobe12

I just finished rereading and marking up The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which was the book that gave me the thesis idea in the first place. I am pretty pleased with the results:  it appears as if my argument is right on track. The children are traumatically separated from their parents because of the “air-raids” of WWII (1). Though Lewis doesn’t dwell on the separation, Peter and Susan (the older of the four) immediately start directing the family. Peter sets to work cheering them all up, while Susan starts mothering until the ever irritable Edmund snaps at her for “trying to talk like Mother” (2).  The two older siblings direct activities, discipline Edmund, and seek the help of the Professor when they first hear of Lucy’s trip through the wardrobe. Interestingly, when Lucy’s siblings initially don’t believe her stories about Narnia, she grows frustrated and says “…you can write to Mother or you can do anything you like,” yet on the next page Peter muses that if anything is wrong “ [The Professor] will write to Father” (42, 43). Both children choose the parent of the same gender when discussing authority.

When Edmund accidentally goes through the wardrobe and encounters the Witch, she seeks his cooperation by speaking kindly and giving him food, drink and warmth – by taking care of him. She ensures his cooperation by tempting him with enchanted food, but perhaps Edmund is seeking a mother.  Once the four children cross into Narnia together, Peter leads the family, while Susan is constantly looking out for their material needs. It is she who suggests they take the coats from the wardrobe because Narnia is in the throes of winter, who wonders about the safety and availability of food in multiple situations (51, 56, 62). This parental behavior is suddenly scared out of them when they discover Edmund has betrayed them – Peter no longer has any idea what to do, and Susan abandons her concern with the family’s needs. Once they are with Aslan, he takes over the parenting – each sibling has a private moment alone with Aslan, after which they emerge wiser.

However, their actions also seem to be influenced by stereotypical gender roles and primogeniture. When they first meet Aslan, Peter realizes he must lead the family to him because he’s the “eldest” (123). Aslan then takes him off alone to show him “the whole country below them… where you are to be King,” while the girls are left behind (125).

Replace Simba with Peter and you've got it.

Replace Simba with Peter and you’ve got it.

Peter is to be “High King over all the rest” because he is “first-born” (126). Part of Edmund’s evil is that he wants to be more powerful than his siblings, especially “Peter” (85). Aslan specifically says that he does not mean for Susan and Lucy to fight in the battle, despite Lucy’s protestations that she “could be brave enough” because, Aslan says, “battles are ugly when women fight (105). The girls often speak in terms of emotion and feelings, while Peter speaks in logic and “strategems,” which is a very antiquated stereotype of male and female thinking (73).

My issue now is to figure out how to include the issue of age and gender roles. I was initially going to discuss acting parental as a behavior older siblings can choose to adopt when they are upset by the absence of their parents, but now it seems I should be looking into how societal and cultural pressures might be encouraging that behavior. Perhaps Peter and Susan act like parents because they are feeling the pressures of their genders to care for the younger ones and act in a certain gender-specific way, and perhaps Peter is feeling the pressure of being first-born when he chooses to head the siblings. I think I’ll see if I can find some research on gender roles, parenting and sibling-led families (this was common when parents had died) in the time period and see if it helps to clarify my discussion. I also have to keep in mind that this novel was published a later than the other two books in my paper, so I have to look into two different sets of cultural norms.

 

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One response to “Thoughts on my paper

  1. sconage says:

    I really like the idea for your final paper; I have never really considered the sibling relationships in
    the novels that we have read or other children literature books I have read. But these relationships
    are essential to many children literature books. The idea of a replacement nuclear family structure
    is also seen in real life situations; I remember watching a lifetime movie based on a true story in
    which the older sister became the parental figure and once the actually mother came back into the
    picture the younger siblings still preferred their sister as the parental figure. Situations like this
    makes you understand that having a child doesn’t mean that you are parental figure, it is really
    about the love, protection, and support that you can provide.

    I agree that Peter and Susan act like parents because they feel the pressure to care for the younger
    ones, I feel the same way about my little brother when my mother has to be gone. It could just be a
    natural feeling that older siblings have about their younger siblings.

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