LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Malnutrition and Imaginary Meals in Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan

Upon looking for sources for my paper, I stumbled upon an article that talked about how hunger and malnutrition are represented in Alice in Wonderland, as a commentary on the famines of the Victorian era. According to the article, Lewis Carroll included the tiny pieces of food, about the place, to express that Alice is essentially scrounging for her meals. She is lucky to stumble upon something, but is often left looking about for more food to return her to normal. In the Victorian era, there were enormous food shortages, causing the price of food to be raised to an intolerable level. As a result, meals became hard to come by. Considering Lewis Carroll saw this occurring, and experienced it himself, he felt the need to use it as a theme in Alice in Wonderland, and seek a solution for it.
At one point, in the novel, Alice meets the caterpillar, smoking atop a giant mushroom. When leaving, he tells her that one side will make her small, and one side will make her big. Alice then attempts to regain her original size, and upon doing so, realizes the value of the mushroom. From then on, Alice stores the mushroom pieces in her apron, thinking that she can use them as needed. This mushroom is thus Carroll’s solution for Victorian society–to find food in nature.

In Peter and Wendy, the lost boys complain about having to occasionally make believe their dinners. I personally found this to be one of the most pitiable situations in the book, and I was curious as to why J. M. Barrie might have written such scenes. After reading about the high price of food in the Victorian era, I wondered if perhaps Barrie was also making a commentary about the Edwardian era, through Peter and Wendy, by expressing that, due the food shortages, little boys and girls sometimes had to imagine they had meals. The Edwardian era, however, was described as a golden age between the Victorian era and World War I, hence I am led to believe that the food shortages improved. What I did read was about a Poor Law that was implemented, which gave relief funds to unemployed women, but not to unemployed able-bodied males. As a result, if one was married to an unemployed male, one was cut off from funds, as well. Upon reading this, I wondered about the financial situation of the Davies boys, and if the imaginary meals were an idea thought up by Barrie to quell their growling stomachs, rather than that of society as a whole. Children often play make believe, when it comes to tea parties, but in Peter and Wendy there is an obvious expression that these boys are hungry, despite having nothing,

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The Secret Garden: Appropriate for Children Today?

The Secret Garden is a novel that focuses on the differences between India and England, expressing that children need to be raised in a good environment in order to become well-behaved children and experience a childhood. It is a book that focuses on the beauty and healing properties of the natural world, but is it appropriate for children to be reading, today?


On one hand, The Secret Garden encourages the reader to step outside, enjoy the fresh air, and explore the beauty of one’s garden. It entices the reader to watch life blossom before one’s eyes, and educates the reader on the basics of gardening. Considering how technology has given children plenty of entertainment and distraction, in doors, I feel that this book would be worth reading to a child, in hopes of helping that child step outside and explore the possibilities of imagination and free play. While the book fails to teach a child how to imagine a new world within one’s head, considering Mary does not possess such faculties, it does show a child that the mere act of skipping rope can be worth pursuing. As a result, perhaps children of today should be reading this, due to the fact that it exposes them to a world that they may not have previously thought was worth venturing into.
On the other hand, The Secret Garden expresses several negative thoughts about the vibrant and beautiful culture and country of India, which increases the potential for racism and closed mindedness about the exotic world. The Secret Garden expresses that India is a sandy country, that is too hot for activities, and is full of ‘blacks’ who are expected to serve Europeans. Considering how diverse the population of America is, today, such messages may be ill-received by families of foreign nationality, and may only lead to more reasons for bullying between Caucasians and other ethnicities. It is possible that, should the child pick up on such propaganda within the book, a caucasian child might believe that individuals of a darker skin type are meant to treat him or her as a superior, and may resulting treat those children as inferior. Such messages pave the way for segregation and discrimination, so one must wonder if it is worth the risk.
Is it better to read the book, in order to encourage children to explore the great outdoors, or should this book be saved for when children are old enough to understand that the messages in the book about class and race are from an earlier era?

 

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Gay Theory and The Wizard of Oz

In Clark’s essay, “The Case of American Fantasy,” she mentions the popular idea, in LGBT sub-culture, that Dorothy’s companions are potentially homosexual, or at least not the stereotypical heterosexual man. There is a sense that the lion is ‘born to be a sissy,’ expressing that he is an effeminate male figure. This is obvious, perhaps, from his sensitive claws, upon touching the tin man’s body.
Within the sphere of gay culture, there are numerous types of gay men, include the term ‘Bears’, which are composed of a group of muscular, many looking men, who often possess quite a lot of chest hair, but tend to be quite tender at heart. It is not far fetched to claim that, if one were to look at The Wizard of Oz under such a lens, that the cowardly lion might fit into such a category.
Certainly, the idea of the tin man and the scarecrow, both men desiring what the other apparently has no need for, might be considered a good pair. To desire a mind, one might say is quite masculine; whereas to desire a heart is more effeminate. One could imagine a new family, with the tin man and the scarecrow as the parents, with the lion as perhaps the protective older brother.
Having not studied Baum’s life, it is difficult to discern whether or not he, himself, could have intended such a portrayal, but, regardless of whether or not it was intended, the fact that this vision is shared by many, is powerful in and of itself. It expresses the potential for such a family to exist, and raises social awareness of this homosexuality, and the homosexual family, in a non-threatening and pleasing manner, which can raise hope of acceptance.
Regardless of Baum’s intentions, in terms of homosexuality, his message about masculinity is clear. You do not have to be a handsome prince, of flesh and striking features, charm, wit, and courage to save the heroine; for even a tin man, a lion, and a scarecrow are worthy heroes.

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Phoebe in Wonderland

Phoebe in Wonderland is a movie from 2008 about a young girl who is in love with Alice in Wonderland. Her mother, a writer, is working on a dissertation on the novel, and their house is a magical place, where Phoebe and her sister are entertained with imaginative projects. In school, Phoebe has trouble adjusting to class and her peers, because she has a bad habit of mimicking the teacher, speaking out of turn, and occasionally spitting at her classmates when they distress her. In one of the first scenes of the movie, Phoebe sits in class after class as they go over the classroom rules. It is quite obvious that she is tired of following the prescript set before her.


Suddenly, the new drama teacher shows up, and quotes Alice in Wonderland, advertising the school play. Due to Phoebe’s love for Alice’s world, she manages to find the courage to sign up for auditions. The rest of the film focuses on the preparation for the play, where Phoebe plays the part of Alice, and her anxieties about making the audition and ‘getting fired’ after being cast as the main part.

It is quite clear, early on, that something is not quite right with Phoebe. In order to quell her anxiety, she washes her hands to the point of them becoming raw, has to jump a certain number of steps on the stairs, over and over, and will perform a difficult hopping and clapping game that involves not stepping on cracks. Her parents quickly become concerned, and her behaviors seem to worsen, until her misbehavior in the classroom gets her kicked out of the play. In the end, it becomes clear that Phoebe suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, a psychological disorder where she cannot control her compulsion to break rules, nor can she control her ritualistic actions despite the distress they cause her.

Through out the film, there are various allusions to the world on Wonderland. Phoebe often imagines the characters appearing before her, talking to her. In this manner, she attempts to derive advice from them about her life problems. The scenes of the play include direct quotes from the book, and costumes that seem fitting for the world of Wonderland. Overall, the message that is pushed, in regards to Alice in Wonderland, is the idea that it is an imaginary world with a different set of rules. It is a place where everything is essentially upside down. In this sense, the world of Alice in Wonderland seems ideal to Phoebe, who would like to be free from the omnipresent rules about what one should and should not do. She dreams of following Alice to a place where she can be free. As a result, the theatre serves as a release for her, where she can become Alice, and do as she pleases. While this movie is not a direct adaptation of the book Alice in Wonderland, it contains accurate allusions to the play, and is a heartwarming film about a unique young girl discovering a place where she feels secure in a world that seems to be against her.

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The Canon and Child Rearing Today

Upon reading the article “Betsy and the Canon,” I found myself feeling slightly disconnected. While I had experienced the often loathsome summer reading assignments, and was assigned several enticing pieces of literature in the last half of high school, that I would argue are listed as canonical works; I don’t remember being encouraged to read certain novels over others, specifically because they were something suitable for a young girl my age. In elementary school, I recall the reading level system, where certain books were color coded based on difficulty, and each student was awarded points based on how many books he or she read and how challenging they were compared to his or her grade level. However, no teacher ever specifically said ‘read this, don’t read this; beware of trash’ or impressed the idea of the canon onto me until I was at least in middle school, if not beyond.

In the article, Kelly Hager emphasizes the point that we have been noticing upon looking at the fairy tales and these early works of Children’s Literature: that canonical literature for children serves the purpose of impressing proper behavior and shaping the intellect of a fine young woman or gentleman. Kelly Hager mentions reading books such as Little Women and Anne of Green Gables repeatedly, as well as the canonical lists mentioned within those novels, and her article seems to give one a sense that she expects that those reading her article have also read these series and avidly chased down these lists of canonical texts.

While I have read Little Women, most of the books that were mentioned in the article I had never heard of. The authors I am familiar with, but I admit that I have not read many of their works. What then, instructed me on proper behavior? Was it perhaps television shows such as “Sesame Street”? How are children, these days, being taught what is proper behavior? How are they being taught to discern between ‘trashy novels’ and literature of the canon? Is there even as great of an emphasis on one’s need to read such texts over another, outside of English classrooms?

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The Tiger’s Bride

“He dragged himself closer and closer to me, until I felt the harsh velvet of his head against my hand, then a tongue, abrasive as sand paper. ‘He will lick the skin off me!’ And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur,” (Carter, 66).

In the classic story of Beauty and the Beast, by Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont, the innocent and virtuous Beauty falls in love with the Beast for his kind nature, in spite of his beastly appearance. As a result, the beast’s curse is lifted and he transforms into a handsome prince. In the case of Angela Carter’s “The Tiger’s Bride”, however, the Beauty not only gives up her innocence, by showing her naked body to the Beast, but the Beast is not a kind man by nature, but a swindler who won the Beauty in a gamble with her father.
In the woods, when the main character sees the Beast, a tiger, shed his disguise and reveal his true form, she expresses feeling as if her chest ‘ripped apart,’ (Carter, 63).

Here, for the first time, the Beauty appears to show sexual attraction to the Beast, rather than mere love for his character. She is attracted by his beastly form, not in spite of it. Upon shedding her clothes, and bearing her nakedness for the first time, the Beauty experiences a sense of freedom, the shedding of social constraint and expectation to clothe oneself and restrict oneself within a certain form. She essentially sheds the disguise that society forces one to wear, to be chaste and virtuous, to appear acceptable.

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At the end of the tale, the girl is allowed to return to her father, having done her deed and paid her father’s debts. The girl decides to remain in the Beast’s estate, however, and sheds her clothes, walking naked into the Beast’s room. Here, instead of the Beast transforming into a human, the Beauty’s human flesh is shed for that of a fur coat, as she transforms into a beast, herself. At this moment, is it as if Angela Carter is expressing that humans are in fact the beasts, and the purity and innocence that we seek can only be found in the animal kingdom. Not only are there no social constraints in the animal kingdom, but the act of sexual attraction and action are simply natural, and necessary, rather than seen as something to restrict or deny, especially in the case of an unmarried young woman. By shedding the form of humanity, the Beauty and the Beast are able to be truly free, without any need for virtue, charm, or civility. They have instead returned to the purity and beauty that is nature.

Source: Carter, Angela. “The Tiger’s Bride.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. Tartar, Maria. New York: Norton, 1999. 63, 66. Print.

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Introductions

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Greetings everyone! My name is Sarah Clow, and I happen to be attending the University of Florida despite being from Tallahassee. I’m a third year Japanese major, but I am also minoring in English. As a result, I am taking this class in order to complete my English minor, but mainly due to my interest in Children’s Literature. I always enjoyed reading fairy tales and fantasy novels as a child, but never really read the classics like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, which is why I would like to read them and explore the field now that I have the opportunity.

For this course, I am especially looking forward to reading Peter Pan. I started reading it on Project Gutenburg last semester, but only had a chance to fly to Neverland. I would very much like to complete the story and examine the contents a bit.
In terms of skills, I am always hoping to improve my skills as a writer. I find that while paper writing may be possible, it is never an easy task, and I would love to learn how to grow in that aspect.
The portion of the syllabus that concerns me the most is the participation portion. I am a naturally shy individual, hence it is always difficult for me to convince myself to participate in classes.

When it comes to Children’s Literature, I automatically think of Alice and WonderlandPeter Pan, and The Wizard of Oz. I also think of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Great Expectations. In my imagination, the classic books that belong under the category of Children’s Literature should be thick, heavy, decadent books with hand drawn illustrations. I feel that the term “Golden Age” refers to the time period where the Children’s Literature texts were flourishing in the Victiorian era, when the texts were viewed as not only children’s stories but works of art. My favorite text is that of Alice and Wonderland. I love the idea that a young girl has fallen down a rabbit hole in her mind.

This is my first course in Children’s Literature, but I hope I get the opportunity to take a couple more before I graduate. My hope is to understand how much of my preconceptions about Children’s Literature and The Golden Age are correct and what is incorrect, and learn a vast deal more.

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