LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Winnie the Pooh Character Analysis: Pooh

The cover art of the book

In A.A Milne’s classic Winnie the Pooh, our titular character is a very interesting one to analyze, both  in regard to his role as the “protagonist” of the story and his relationship with Christopher Robin. He seems to be good friends with all of the regularly appearing residents of the Hundred Acre Wood and is very attached to Christopher Robin. 

Pooh definitely loves honey…

Pooh is arguably the most lackadaisical character of the entire novel. Unlike most protagonist of stories, Pooh is not driven by a quest nor fights against an antagonist. Instead, Pooh simply interacts with his fellow wood residents and gets into mischievous situations. Pooh’s one notable trait that compels him to complete tasks is his constant quest for honey, which he seems to adore almost as much as Christopher Robin (if not more so). This gluttonous quest for honey often causes the conflict in the stories centered on Pooh, notably including a chapter where he gets stuck in a hole leading to Robin’s underground home. This need for honey also can indirectly affect other characters, which is best seen when Pooh wishes to give Eeyore honey for his birthday but eats it all after becoming hungry. Although Pooh often complicates matters due to his seemingly unquenchable hunger for honey, he never purposely wishes to hurt his friends and even concocts solutions to fix his problems. Pooh at his core seems to be a very pure character with good intentions which can sometimes be affected by his character flaw.

A beautiful friendship

Another interesting dynamic concerning Pooh’s character is his attachment to Christopher Robin. Pooh seems to be the character that loves Christopher the most, which is paralleled by his “real-life” role as his teddy bear. In the novel, Christopher Robin is usually the one who comes to Pooh’s rescue when he gets in trouble. A very important detail to highlight is the boy’s patience with Pooh, something that never seems to be compromised. Other characters are usually quick to criticize and quip at Pooh due to his character flaws; in stark contrast, Christopher never becomes upset with Pooh and usually just refers to him lovingly as a “silly old bear.” Pooh’s love for him seems to definitely owe itself to this fact and can be paired with how Pooh looks up to Robin as both a guardian and a friend. This dynamic definitely gives Pooh a compelling characterization and enhances the arc he shares with Christopher, which comes to a bittersweet close when the boy leaves for school. Pooh states “if there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever”, which I think best captures their relationship. 

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The Double Edged Sword: Wishing in Five Children and It (Theme Analysis and Criticism)

Be careful what you wish for…

Five Children and It is a seemingly simple story that shows why people cannot always get what they wish for and if they do, it carries unexpected problems. This theme, however, is a very interesting theme to tackle in a children’s book, especially since children are the demographic most likely to wish for unrealistic things. Children also usually do not weigh the pros and cons of situations and only work toward their idealized goal. In the novel, this idea materializes through the five children’s various wishes, ranging from wanting to be beautiful to wanting to be rich. However, each wish carries unforeseen consequences that always results in the wish providing more harm than good.

“What do you weirdos want now?!”

In my opinion, I think Nesbit included this theme as the ultimate moral of the story. Although morals are often presented at the end of children’s books, I think it was very intelligent of Nesbit to repeatedly convey the moral through different yet similar scenarios. However, I found the execution of the theme to be lackluster. As an adult reading this, I found the constant failings of the children’s wishes to be evident of the theme by the second or third chapter and the following chapters were too repetitive. I think the story would have been best served as a short story to present the characters and theme succinctly and would have avoid the tedium of the book. However, I can see why a child would enjoy the repetitive nature of the book. Nesbit cleverly finds new ways to ruin the wishes and that type of suspense appeals greatly to younger readers.

I don’t even know if I would approach this guy…

Another interesting dimension of the theme is that it does not present the idea of “being careful of what to wish for” as well as it could. Throughout the novel, the Psammead grants the wishes of the children. Although he could be interpreted as a microcosm for the larger idea of wishing for unrealistic goals and objects, I think including the character only aids in presenting the theme to children and fails on a thematic level. On a larger level, using the Psammead downplays the theme a bit because the consequences that often stem from the wishes are completely unexpected and random. Although this can play into the idea that wishing for some things yields completely surprising and undesired consequences, I still think the execution of the character’s ability to grant wishes compromises the theme. I do think the character works wonderfully in entertaining and making the idea more accessible for children, which I think is the greatest strength of the work.

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Extra Credit Response: Hush, the wordless comic from India

hush-cover

The somber cover of the comic.

I attended the graduate school conference for comics and learned about three very different comics, none of which fell into the usual superhero or comedy genres. Three students presented their papers and discussed and argued for ideas concerning the comics, usually involving a combination of theme with the comic’s manipulation of its form. The topic that resonated most with me involved a student presenting a very unique comic in India, one that contained no dialogue and only utilized images to convey its story. The student argued that the comic, titled Hush, not only surmounted comic tropes but also conveyed an Indian woman’s feeling of helplessness and futility in a world dominated by men.

The comic itself follows the story of an unnamed student who is repeatedly raped by her father. After years of  abuse, she shoots him (or so what appears to be him) in a class room and eventually shoots herself, but only after hallucinating his appearance after killing him. The bulk of the student’s presentation centered upon the nuances within the text (for example, the use of shading and how it correlated with the protagonist’s mood) and how the author used unconventional methods to create a feeling of helplessness in a man’s world. Although the comic only detailed the woman’s struggle with her father and her descent into madness and misery, the student claimed that the comic could be interpreted as a microcosm for the frustration of women everywhere in India in the face of male dominance. I found this idea very compelling, especially since I know many books from the United States used similar (although not as drastic) plots and character arcs to build upon the idea of a frightening sense of male dominance. The student’s argument that rape is the best metaphor for the feelings of Indian woman in their society also strengthens his argument. Many literary scholars and critics point to the use of rape in literature as a device to communicate feelings of degradation, helplessness, and inferiority. A rape represents the sickest and most final display of power of a man over a woman, so it makes sense why an author would employ a rape as a metaphor for the woman experience in India.

The student organized his paper very well and managed a consistent flow throughout. After summarizing the basic premise of the comic, he showed the audience page by page the events that unfolded and offered analysis for each image and plot point. This helped greatly with buildings his arguments by informing the audience of the plot of the comic, with which he was then able to naturally analyze and argue to the reader without having the reader be potentially confused. The only issue I found with this method was its conduciveness to time, for each presenter was allowed only ten or so minutes to present their topic in full. Although a separate reader would have his or her own time to read and fully digest the paper, an audience member here is limited by the time constraints of the panel and thus could feel as though the paper’s presentation was rushed. However, I felt that the student aptly presented and explained his paper within the time constraints. I definitely learned a variety of ways one could present a paper from this panel, particularly the method of building upon an argument while simultaneously guiding the audience chronologically through a work. I could see how this method would fail to hold up with a longer work, though. Overall, I greatly valued going to the panel and learning how grad students present papers on works of literature.

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Why Peter Pan Fails To Hold Up (in America)

Peter?! I thought you were older…

When the average person thinks of Peter Pan, the story of a boy in green tights flying with a girl and her brothers to a magical locale called Neverland would probably come to mind first. This fantasy is even more apparent in American culture, where Disney granted us a very popular adaptation and other authors continue to explore the origins to or adventures after the Peter and Wendy novel. When it comes to Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, the average American probably has little idea of a story of a baby named Peter who explores the magical settings in the United Kingdom. I cannot say how well the book holds up for the rest of the world, but I know that Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens fails to resonate with modern audiences. Although one may argue that this is due to the Peter and Wendy story usurping its popularity, I believe it can actually be attributed to the novel’s narrow scope and dense prose.

Groovy huh?

The novel takes place in the United Kingdom, specifically in London and the Kensington Gardens. The everyday American citizen is probably not familiar with the geography of the UK, which is repeatedly mentioned in the novel. This brings up a number of issues, especially in regard to the fact that the novel is targeted toward children. Since most younger children are not well versed in the geography of their own state and country, it makes sense that the locations mentioned by Barrie would fly right over American children’s heads. The failure to recognize these locales would mean that children would also have difficulty understanding the significance of the locations and thus diminish their enjoyment of the work. Although Barrie is able to eloquently describe the setting and layer it with wonderful imagery, I still think the geographical barrier has persisted as an impediment to the novel’s classic status in America and its inability to appeal to modern children.

Creepy lookin’…

Although J.M. Barrie paints a very appealing picture of Kensington Gardens, his writing style could be another reason why the novel has failed to stand among other works in their universal appeal to children across the generations. His descriptions and second-person narrative are fascinating to analyze as an adult studying the novel, but as a child I could see myself becoming frustrated very early on with the text. This dense prose could be attributed to the fact that he is of Scottish origin and many American children would be unfamiliar with the colloquialisms and slang he uses throughout the novel. While many British authors employ the nuances of their English tactfully within their texts, I think Barrie fails on many levels to appeal to readers outside of Europe. In addition, the meandering sentences of descriptions could also quickly disengage a child from the story. Overall, the combination of lengthy, meandering prose and many references to foreign locations have contributed to the novel’s immense decrease in popularity in America, particularly concerning is classic status.

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The Shifting World of Through the Looking Glass

What is life but a dream?

Much like its predecessor, Through the Looking Glass showcases Lewis Carroll’s love for seemingly nonsensical characters, dialogue exchanges, and world. However, it can be argued that the world showcased in the sequel surpasses the original world of Wonderland in its  non-linearity and bizarre occurrences. One of the biggest differences between Wonderland and the world within the looking glass is the completely random shifts in settings that pop up in the sequel. Carroll purposely sets up a setting and a set of characters only to change them completely without notice. The motif can be in interpreted several ways, but I believe Carroll included this odd device to reinforce the idea that real life can be as nonsensical and random as the looking glass world.

A peek into the bizarre carriage scene.

The first major example of this motif occurs in chapter 3 when Alice inexplicably goes from running down a hill to being thrust inside a carriage and being badgered for not having a ticket. She undergoes bullying from the carriage guard  and its passengers, has her thoughts read by everyone on the carriage, and is scrutinized under microscopes. I think Carroll potentially included this encounter to showcase the way situations sometimes deprives people completely of their preparedness. The complete tonal shift reinforces this idea, with the tone first being curious and whimsical to anxious and troubled. The prevalent sense of helplessness Alice experiences in the carriage, particularly the insults aimed at her from the characters, also adds to this stark tonal shift. Although seemingly random, I think Carroll possessed a method to his madness through complete scene changes.

Alice and her kitten, the ear to her muse.

Although many of the scene changes in the novel represent a shift from tranquility (at least what can be considered tranquil in the world) to chaos, the final setting change at the end represents a stark departure from this trend. When Alice becomes queen, a nonsensical and disastrous dinner is held in her honor. At the climax of this dinner, Alice awakens and learns the entire ordeal was a dream. I think this shift at the end directly links to the poem that ends the story, which’s final line states “Life, what is it but a dream?”  (line 21). This particular shift gives the reader an interesting insight into Carroll’s opinion on life in a very melancholy yet philosophical line. When Alice awakens, she attributes figures in her life (such as her cats) to to characters in her dream and recounts the dream to one of her kittens. Her desire to make sense of the dream and remember all the details could indicate a desire to return to the looking glass world. This relates to the sadly nostalgic tone of Carroll’s poem, which sounds like he experienced life as a dream and perhaps mournfully misses it. This could sum up a huge theme of the book, which emphasizes attaining happiness no matter the circumstances, even if it’s achieved through a dream.

Carroll’s employment of drastic scene changes represents both the positives and negatives of the randomness of life. Although I may not agree with his feelings regarding happiness and its pursuit, I find his weaving of nonsense with philosophical themes quite admirable as a writer.

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Pinocchio: Characterizations in Book and Disney Film

The original poster to the Disney film.

The original poster to the Disney film.

When the media behemoth known as Disney decides to adapt a story for modern audiences, the staff involved usually edits the material to make it more accessible and child-friendly. In the case of the classic book The Adventures of Pinocchio, Walt Disney and his crew changed the presentations of the characters in a number of ways. Although many people may take these changes at face value, I find it more interesting to analyze the reasons why certain changes in particular characters exist, most notably in our titular protagonist.

Disney: making odd children's books more accessible since the early 1900's!

Disney: making odd children’s books more accessible since the early 1900’s!

Collodi’s and Disney’s characterizations of Pinocchio differ in subtle ways. In the classic novel, Pinocchio can be see as the quintessential  petulant child in that he constantly makes mistakes, diverges from his instructions, and treats his authority figures with indirect contempt. Even though he affirms to himself that he will follow the instructions of his father and the blue fairy, he almost always gives into temptation and disobeys them. This character trait parallels the Disney version of Pinocchio, who succumbs to the same temptations; however, the Disney Pinocchio displays much more innocence than the book version. Disney’s Pinocchio lacks basic knowledge of human nature and is fooled repeatedly by the fox and the cat, which can be attributed to his naivety. Collodi’s Pinocchio, although also lacking knowledge, disobeys his superiors much more often than the Disney Pinocchio and even treats his father badly at time. When Pinocchio first meets his father in the book, he insults him and gives little respect for the fact that he created him. This lack of respect becomes a recurring theme early in the book, especially when Pinocchio sells the ABC book his father gave to him, which he paid for by selling off his only coat. The Disney Pinocchio loves his father tremendously and never purposely insults him nor abuses him, which adds more to Disney’s characterization of an innocent but naive Pinocchio. On a more aesthetic level, the book Pinocchio is often presented in a creepy, realistic fashion in illustrations, while the Disney Pinocchio is much more anthropomorphized and looks almost like a normal little boy.

The illustrations of the book Pinocchio are a tad creepy…

Why does Disney characterize Pinocchio as an innocent, naive boy while the original character displays much more insensitivity? I think the answer lies in a cultural shift. When the book was published, nearly almost all of books for children were created primarily to teach lessons and give children examples of morality. Although Disney’s film still recognizes and demonstrates the same basic lessons, the idea of entertaining the audience is much more prevalent. If Pinocchio had remained as rude as he was in the novel, audiences probably would not have responded well and ignored the film. By giving Pinocchio a more child-like innocence and cuteness, Disney has not only given children a character to relate to but also one that parents can sympathize with and adore. Although Collodi’s message may be subdued, Disney’s adaptation reflects a much better understanding of what appeals to both parents and children.

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The Water Babies: Tom’s Coming of Age

An interesting diagram that can be interpreted as the wavering nature of coming-of-age.

In our lives, we grow, develop, and mature both mentally and physically every day in a variety of ways. Because of this, readers of literature naturally gravitate towards works focusing upon character development and evolution. A particular sub-genre, the coming-of-age story, usually chronicles a young boy or girl as they face external and internal conflicts and how those develop and mature their personalities and world-views. In Kingsley’s The Water-Babies, our protagonist Tom morphs into a water-baby and learns more about his faults and how to correct them over the course of the story, and by the conclusion both literally and figuratively transforms into an adult.

When Tom begins his journey, his demeanor reflects a quintessentially immature young boy, reflected by his habits of agitating innocent animals, prioritizing himself over others, and disobeying the rules of his adult figures. In most coming-of-age stories, the protagonist gradually learns how to sympathize, understand, and rationalize. Although Tom’s maturity slowly grows, he tends to retreat back to his poor behaviors, even after experiencing pivotal moments in his life. Early in the story, Tom initially fails to find any other water babies. After saving a lobster from a fisherman’s trap, the water babies greet him and introduce him to their home and adult figures, who congratulate him upon his refined sense of empathy. However, later in the story Tom steals sweets from Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, (a loving, generous adult figure) a clear sign that he has yet to truly mature. This regression indicates the difference between Kingsley’s coming-of-age story and the multitude of stories written by other authors; Kingsley suggests Tom cannot mature through one event and must continue to compromise morality in order to truly reach a point of complete ethical sensibility.

Who could steal from this loving woman?!

Another interesting difference in Kingsley’s coming-of-age story is how Tom ultimately matures as an adult. In most coming-of-age stories, a conflict’s conclusion that naturally occurs within the story serves as the impetus for the protagonist’s realizations and subsequent maturation. For Tom, he is ordered to save Mr. Grimes in order to grow from a boy into a man. Although he saves Mr. Grimes and learns more about himself and his capability to empathize, the fact that it was a dictated rite-of-passage from one of his adult figures diminishes the impact of his growth and implies that Tom would have never developed unless placed under the guidance of an adult figure. He also literally becomes a full-grown man at the conclusion of the story, a not-so-subtle indication from Kingsley that Tom has indeed matured. Most coming-of-age stories usually have the child only figuratively mature, but Kingsley probably included the detail to make the premise more apparent to younger readers.

In the end he gets the girl!

Overall, Kingsley’s unique approach to the coming-of-age story through Tom showcases a respectable understanding of the sub-genre and serves as a fitting guideline for children and parents alike.

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Introductory Blog Post: Cody Smith

Hey everyone! My name is Cody Smith and I am from Tampa, Florida. I graduated from Robinson High School in the IB program and obtained my IB diploma. I am currently studying for an English major (which I recently changed from Criminology) and soon a Spanish minor as a sophomore in regard to my year, but as a junior in regard to my credit hours. I plan to become a teacher of English, either as a high school teacher (which I also plan to attempt to reform our system of education) or a professor. If I achieve that goal, I also plan on writing on the side in hopes to publishing my poetry and/or narrative works. I still haven’t decided which graduate school I want to attend, but a few more years to think about it will help me narrow the decision. On a more personal note, I love music, movies, books, and writing. I love attending music festivals and concerts and make a note to read all of the best books and watch all of the best movies ever year.

I am taking this course primarily for two reasons: to take a class 3000 level or higher to adhere to my critical tracking and to learn more about a largely underrated section of literature. Since I haven not taken an English course since fall of Freshman year, I feel as though my writing and reading skills have gotten rusty. This class involves plenty of writing and reading, which I hope will aid me in bolstering my skill as a writer and ease me into my old reading habits and improve upon my concentration level as I read. I am interested in learning more about Alice and Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio, the former of which I read in the past and loved.

My idea of “Children’s Literature” entails a text’s ability to not only entertain children but to also teach them about life, whether the story involves a moral lesson or a warning disguised as a conflict. In addition, I believe children’s literature should aim to entertain adults and perhaps reinforce what they already know about life (or even enlighten them about an idea they may not have considered). If I had to pick a favorite Children’s book, I would probably pick Alice in Wonderland for its nonsensical plot line and themes. I have yet to take a class about children’s literature, but I am still very excited to read all the books and learn more about the subject matter. For me the term “Golden Age” hearkens back to an idea where all media and thought represent an apex of quality and innovation, which possesses much greater influence over every subsequent time period up until another golden age. I wonder, though, what exactly contributes to a golden age, particularly the time period surrounding it and the lives of the authors.

Here’s a picture of me from Freshman year, still looks a lot like me:

Me

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