LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Thoughts on Final Paper: The Desexualization and Sanitized Innocence of Disney Princesses

 Disney Princess

Early in the semester, I found a strong connection to the fairy tales we read that have been remade as a Disney classic. Originally, my argument followed in suit with many scholars that have argued that Walt Disney perpetuated a chauvinistic and patriarchal ideal that featured women who ultimately were at the mercy of the men in their life. This has been evident in these films through the lack of a maternal figure, the only adult women are typically evil and violent, the father figure always transfers control to the husband at the end of the film, and it is always Prince Charming that rescues the princess from a near death experience. As a woman, I obviously find this problematic because it instills into the minds of young girls everywhere that our happiness is dependent on a man. While I do not consider myself an outright feminist, I would imagine many other women would find this notion not only discriminatory but also a continuation of many current ideologies that women are nothing without the help from a man. After proposing my initial thoughts of this, I quickly realized that many people have also found these truths to be evident and there was no clear original argument that I was making, so I have since changed the focus of my paper.

Rather than necessarily chastising Disney, I decided to figure out and understand why he chose this way to market a majority of his corporation. When I looked back on the original fairy tales of Snow White, Rapunzel, the Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast I noticed incredible amounts of sex and violence that were heavily interspersed throughout the entirety of the story, some of which certainly did not seem suitable for children. Then as I began re-watching the Disney movies regarding these stories, I noticed that while Disney may have harped on the patriarchal dominance of a man, he also desexualized and took out a lot of the violence that shrouded the original tales, which made them more accessible for children. In the original Rapunzel, she is not only described as hoisting up the prince to the tower with her long hair for presumably sexual encounters, the story also features pregnancy out of wedlock, which is hardly the story I would want my child to read. Ironically, these parts of the story did not seem to make the Disney movie Tangled. Furthermore, Disney took out a lot of the violence that is featured in the original stories of Snow White, Ariel, and Belle and instead, he created a more romantic story line in order to cast a cloak of innocence on the movies to make them more affable for children. Through further research it can be adequately argued and demonstrated that while Disney may not be revered in the Women’s Studies department in Ustler Hall, his ability to make subversive tales into a more child friendly story have certainly prevailed and allowed him to remain as the leading force in children’s entertainment today.

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The Classic Character

never grow up

            While doing research for my group’s presentation on J.M. Barrie and his most well-known character Peter Pan, the question emerged whether or not this was considered a classic. Prior to this class, I was never of aware of the Little White Bird or Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and my knowledge of the boy who would never grow up was mainly secluded to what Disney mass produced as a part of the “Masterpiece Collection”. While I agree that Peter Pan is a classic, it is not the books, but rather the character that has true lasting power in the cannon of children’s literature. Barrie’s novels have the ability to apply to both the audience of the child and the adult, which is certainly no easy feat, and a result of popularity, this story has been able to grow into a category of its own, which continues to be proliferated today. However, Peter himself is the true star that endures as an archetype of the boy who never turns into a man. While Wendy, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys all serve an important part and are certainly known in their own right, it is the story of Peter that consistently prevails.

Peter Pan, the self-assured and smug boy of Neverland, has helped this story achieve notoriety because of the theme that he represents to many children and adults. In a society where we are forced to grow up and accept the realities of our day-to-day lives, Barrie questions this as he creates a character who not only refuses to grow up, but is also proud to stay a boy forever. As a result of Peter Pan, Barrie was able to capitalize and create multiple story lines as well as create a play that made this character an idol to those who wished they could step away from their own responsibilities and never stop believing in the impossible. While in all reality, Peter Pan is certainly not pure and innocent, his mischievousness goes unnoticed at times because I believe people are more focused on wishing they were more like him, living life free of accountability, and with the belief that they can do anything, including fly.

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Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens Bibliography

Academic Sources:

Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2008. Print.

Barrie, J.M. The Little White Bird. New York: C. Scribner’s sons, 1915. eBook. <http://uf.catalog.fcla.edu.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/uf.jsp?st=the little white bird j.m. barrie&ix=kw&fl=bo&V=D&S=0271363712044011&I=6>

Birkin, Andrew. J.M. Barrie and the lost boys. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. Print.

“J.M. Barrie.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 19 Mar. 2013. <http://www.britannica.com.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/EBchecked/topic/54080/J-M-Barrie>.

Griffith, John. “Making Wishes Innocent: Peter Pan.” The Lion and the Unicorn. 3.1 (1979): n. page. Web. 19 Mar. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/lion_and_the_unicorn/v003/3.1.griffith.html&gt;.

Nonacademic Sources:

“Biography: True Story.” J.M. Barrie Biography. A E Networks, n.d. Web. 19 Mar 2013. <http://www.biography.com/people/jm-barrie-9200058&gt;.

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“Are people really born Wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”

Wicked

The children’s classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum, is timeless and the subject of constant revivals that test the ability of the book’s star power by revamping the story line to appeal to a different generation. As a student who grew up in the theatre, my love for the Wizard of Oz did not come when I was a child reading this book, but when the Broadway musical Wicked came to stage. I was officially spellbound by the story of Elphaba, also known as the Wicked Witch of the West, the girl who as a result of her mother’s mistake, took on a greenish hue and was ostracized for looking different. Her whole life all she wanted was to feel normal, which speaks to many young women who are growing into themselves and just want to fit in. While I will save you from the full plot, the bottom line is that the Wicked Witch of the West was no longer portrayed as an evil witch, but as a misunderstood woman who lost the love of her life in a tragic ending that resulted in her subsequent lack of faith for the power of good.

The Wicked Witch of the West is the most hated character in Baum’s story, especially as she relentlessly tried to kill Dorothy and her friends, and ultimately made them hostages in her country. I believe that the play was attempting to shed a different and more empathetic view on this character. The reason why this play is continuing to tour today and still considered a huge success is not only because it is visually and aesthetically pleasing to the audience, but also because people want to see the good in Elphaba, to understand why she became the way she is, and to justify her evil nature. In Wicked, Elphaba is the victim, a green girl who simply wants to be normal, and ultimately as her attempts at love and happiness kept failing, resorts to evil because she saw no point in trying to be good when all it did was create more pain. Unlike Baum’s book, the musical incorporates themes that are more tailored towards adults, but regardless, it is extremely relatable for those who are having difficulty accepting failure and loving themselves for who they are, rather than what the they think they need to become. This is not to say that anyone who loses love and cannot fit in must become an evil villain, but it does help others conceptualize that wickedness is not always such a clear-cut category, for more often than not, judgment is a result of misunderstanding.

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Alice Lost in Wonderland

alice

Charles Dodgson, or better known as Lewis Carroll, was a man who never quite grew up from his childlike mindset. Literary sources tell us that he was constantly entertaining children and enjoyed spending time with their uncultivated and inspired minds that saw no bounds or limits. In his tale Alice in Wonderland, he created a literary world full of nonsense and imagination that is parallel to the mind of a child. From the very first scene where Alice is with the Rabbit, Carroll transports his readers to a state of idyllic childhood innocence, where nothing has to be explained, just accepted to be true. Much like the mindset of a child, children do not always understand why things are happening the way they are, but they accept them as undeniable truths because they have no reason not to. They have a trust for society inherently, just as Alice accepts the abnormalities of Wonderland.

Carroll has created the childlike playground of Wonderland to comment on the loss of childhood innocence, for Alice’s lack of identity is a direct juxtaposition to highlight the knowing from the unknown. The structure of Carroll’s story is reminiscent to the mind of a child; it is divergent, not structured, and accepts the idea of the absurd. Unlike other fairy-tales of the period, this book appeals to the mind of the child, rather than the adult. Carroll uses Alice as not only a motif for coming into adulthood, but also as a metaphor for society as she is described with a  “need to define, limit, control the chaos of so many of the Wonderland situations”, which can translate to the rigid societal rules that govern our own behaviors as adults (Natov, 55). There is an “overriding concern… about adolescent preooccupation with identity” in Carroll’s piece that translates with the innocence of children and the transition to adulthood because Alice concerns most of her thoughts with understanding who she is and what she knows (Natov, 55). She has no clear sense of her identity throughout the entire story; she finds it difficult to characterize herself to others, especially when she comes in contact with the caterpillar.  As he questions who she is, she “hardly know[s]” for all she can think of is that she “knew who [she] was when [she] got up this morning, but [she] think[s] [she] must have been changed several times since then” (Carroll, 41).

This story serves as an expression of self-discovery; what it is like to have the mindset of a child, yet the social responsibility of an adult. It causes me to wonder if this is a similar dichotomy that Carroll also felt—the pressure to grow up, when it made so much more sense to stay in the adolescent and youthful mind frame of a child. I hope that it is as Carroll said, that as adults we still are able to “find a pleasure in all [our] simple joys, remembering [our] own child-life, and the happy summer days” for those are the times when the world just seemed to make more sense (Carroll, 110).

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Fairy Tales and Disney Tales: the Goblin known as Walt

The Princess and the Goblin is an interesting progression for fairy tales as the idea of a female protagonist is not only represented in this text, but the story also implores the idea that the other main characters who greatly affect this story’s development are also women. In class, we were able to spend an ample amount of time highlighting the qualities of five women who demonstrated their influence on the story. Coincidentally enough, this movie, not created though the somewhat less than imaginative mind of Walt Disney, was not very popular with audiences, such as Beauty and the Beast, which was also produced in the same yearWhat does this say about the power that Disney holds over popular culture regarding how an animated fairy tale should be viewed and critiqued? Walt Disney is anything but the model for feminism and as a result, the criticism regarding his chauvinistic tendencies in practically every one of his movies becomes more of a focus even decades after his death.

While I cannot argue that Mr. Disney did not find merit in the fairy tale of Princess Irene, it can be demonstrated through his inability of focusing on strong female protagonists and his display of women in his films, that he could have possibly been deterred from producing a film that was centered on women. In The Princess and the Goblin, the King is absent for majority of the book, and the only other real strong male character is Curdie, who while helps save the Princess, is only a supporting character to the illustrious Irene.

When the movie of The Princess and the Goblin came out in 1991, it was competing with the Disney classic film, Beauty and the Beastand we all know how that turned out. Princess Irene got lost in the castle along with poor Chip in the cupboard and was hardly a thought in the realm of Belle and the Beast.

The author of The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald, was beginning a new focus of fairy tales, which included women in a more commanding role; however, as Jack Zipes wrote in his piece Breaking the Disney Spell, Disney has a way of “chang[ing] [fairy tales] completely to suit his tastes and beliefs” (Zipes, 347). Zipes specifically looks at how Disney portrayed the film version of Snow White, but much of what he says applies to practically every movie that deals with a Disney princess. In the Grimms’ version of Snow White there is “the sentimental death of [Snow White’s] mother”, however this just so happens to be left out of Mr. Disney’s portrayal of the film (Zipes, 347). Instead, his story centered on the romance with the Prince, who of course enters on a white horse as Snow’s very own prince charming. Snow White lies lifeless in the end of the film until this man can come rescue her. As Zipes states concisely, the “film follows the classic ‘sexist’ narrative about the framing of women’s lives through a male discourse” (Zipes, 348). “Despite [the] beauty and charm” of the princesses in Disney’s films, “these figures are pale and pathetic compared to the more active and demonic characters in the film” (Zipes 349).

Princess Irene does not fill this archetype of the domestic woman, whose motive is purely as an accessory to a man. She is strong-willed, independent, and uses her title as princess to implore power, rather than subservience. Why then was the film of her journey unfavorable? The answer to this question is certainly perplexing, and unfortunately, I am not sure I will find the answer any time soon. But I feel I am more hopeful than most in thinking that as a society we will all be able to fight back against the patriarchal goblin that Disney has created in order to demonstrate a more balanced approach to the contributions of both women and men in fairy-tales.

 

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A “classic tale” with a “new twist” is certainly one way to describe the new movie Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Unlike the Grimm fairy tale this modern day revival of the classic fable picks up right where the brother and sister left off, with a quite unexpected twist. Bounty hunters on a mission, Hansel and Gretel face a new journey that is a tad more extreme than forming a path of pebbles and breadcrumbs.

hansel

While the movie appears not to make any major changes regarding what happened to those children in the woods, it certainly spices up how they decided to continue their life after Gretel threw the witch into the oven. Rather than completely change the story’s premise, this film attempts to make this classic fable more applicable for an older generation. As a child, the story of Hansel and Gretel was something I heard before bedtime; however, now as I am about to graduate from college, reading this fable is not necessarily on my list of burning interest. The movie, however, is attempting to make their journey of life after the witch into something that is more relatable to the Twilight and Hunger Games generation that is yearning for vampires, death, and of course, some violence. In essence, I believe that movies and television have created a new form of fairy tales for the young adult generation. No longer do we await to hear a bedtime story, but now we become anxious with excitement at the thought of a midnight release.

While my thoughts on this spin of the classic tale range from interest to varying degrees of ridiculousness,  I admit while the premise of witch hunters is outlandish, modifying a tale to make it seem more current for an older generation is appealing. Movies such as this, among others, are giving an older generation a new way to enjoy their favorite stories, and if they add a couple twists like bounty hunting, then so be it.

And, for your viewing pleasure….

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Introductory Blog: Nicole Georges

kid lit Hi! My name is Nicole Georges and I am a senior graduating in Political Science with a double minor in English and Theatre. I am from St. Petersburg, Florida.

I have always loved reading and as a result of growing up as an only child, I found solace and comfort from the characters that I would read about. While my outgoing personality never allows much room for silence, I am most comfortable when I find a good book that can make me forget about what is going on around me.  My love for reading began as a child, which is to some extent a  reason for taking this course; to go back to a time of innocence and naivety where my main concern was to stay up later than my bed time in order to get to the next chapter of a book. As I’ve grown older, it has become increasingly more difficult to find the time to appreciate literature, and I am hoping that this class will rekindle the love I felt every Friday night when my dad would take me to Barnes & Noble to get a new book.

It is difficult to say which text I am looking forward to reading most, because each of  these novels has in some way shaped my reading as a child. However, what I am most looking forward to in this course is the ability to revisit these timeless classics to take a more analytic look in order to assess a deeper meaning and message that I may have missed prior.

My idea of “children’s literature”, and more specifically, the Golden Age of this genre, is that this is the beginning of the imaginative minds of many children. In the fables of Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glassand The Wonderful Wizard of Ozchildren are given the ability to imagine a world completely separate from reality, to dream of the impossible. Children’s literature gives our youth the ability to use words in order to traverse to an unknown world that is not only timeless, but infinite with possibilities of what we can accomplish for the future. While I have never taken a children’s literature course before, I am anxious to learn this semester about how the novels that have shaped my life, have also shaped the lives of others and the literary community. The term “Golden Age” refers to a time in literature that is revered not only for its timelessness, but also for how it demonstrates a time of historic excellence that continues to shape society today.

While I have enjoyed many classics growing up, I find it difficult to narrow it down to one book as my favorite. I will say though, that children’s literature has helped me become the reader I am today and has opened my imagination to think outside of the box. I am extremely excited to learn more about these stories in order to continue the discovery of these the literary legacies.

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