LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Motivations in Writing Children’s Literature

The agendas that author’s have when writing their works of fiction are very interesting.  They cover an array of motives and serve a purpose that is ultimately for the author.  The authors may have a strong moral code that they believe all others should also have and so they write stories where one can learn and see how following these morals will lead them to having the best life they can have.  Another motive could be political agendas.  Many texts are written in a time of political turmoil and some authors incorporate this into their works.  Authors also tend to put much of themselves into their stories.  The reasons can vary; perhaps it is a way to immortalize themselves or, a way for them to work through insecurities or problems in their lives.  Most likely, it is a way for the authors to write something that they know personally and feel a connection to.

images    Charles Kingsley inserts his belief in religion and duty within his tale of The Water Babies.  Kingsley was a very religious man and had a set idea about how “good” people lived.  Therefore, he chose to push these beliefs onto others by instructing children how one was meant to behave through his tale of Tom and Ellie.  Even within classic fairy tales there are lessons and morals to be gained from reading these stories.   Do not disobey your husband, marry whomever you are intended to and maybe you will fall in love with him anyway, be a good child and listen to your elders and remain sweet and pure.  These are all lessons, which can be obtained through the readings of fairy tales from all over the world.

Political agendas can be inferred within at least a few of the texts that we have read during this course.  Both Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books and Frank L.  Baum’s The Wizard of Oz have different social and political issues within them. Within Kipling’s books about Mowgli and his animal comrades we see a social hierarchy that is very reflective of British governed India.  Many historians view the Baum’s The Wizard of Oz as a political text.  They have assumed that Baum used very strategically certain characteristics and colors within the novel to represent political America.  For instance, some historian’s have stated that the Cowardly Lion could be the politician William Jennings Bryan who had the reputation of being indecisive.  Others have inferred that the Yellow Brick Road is symbolic of gold and the silver shoes are representative of currency.  images-1

Finally, I would like to visit the concept, which leaves me with the most questions, the motive of putting oneself within one’s own fictional story.  Lewis Carroll inserted himself in both of his Alice tales.  In Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland we see a tale that Lewis wrote entirely for the children he was very fond of from his own life.  Alice Liddell is the Alice whom Carroll both wrote the story and created the character around.  In his follow up, Through the Looking Glass, Carroll inserts himself into the text as The White Knight.  He gives his mannerisms and other qualities to this character.  Carroll is not the only author to do this though and we see a similar story within J.M. Barrie’s stories about Peter Pan.  Much like Carroll, Barrie was also very close to a family with young children that were not his own. Instead of the children being all girls this family was made up of five young boys whom Barrie created his tales for.  He even names his characters within his works after these boys.  Barrie also gives a part of himself to the character of Peter, and put his own dog Porthos within his earlier drafts.

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Though motives may vary it is easy to assume that these author’s felt a need to write about the beliefs, world occurrences, and things going on in their lives.  Especially interesting is that these are texts that are geared for children.  The need to impress morality, hint a political issues, and offer a personal vulnerability that children may not grasp quite fully at first but later in life when they are older and pick back up these classics that is very likely to change.

*Geer, John G.; Rochon, Thomas R. (2004). “William Jennings Bryan on the Yellow Brick Road”. The Journal of American Culture 16 (4): 59–63. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.1993.00059.x.

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Betwixt-and-Between: Peter Pan and The Water-Babies

In reading Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, I was reminded of The Water Babies. Solomon tells Peter that he is a “Betwixt-and-Between” (Barrie17) and it seems to me that in The Water-Babies, Tom is equally stuck being not-quite human.

I think the scene that really made the connection for me though, was the scene with the birds in Peter Pan; it reminded me of the Allfowlsness Island Tom encounters on his journey. On an island of birds – each having their own community and way of life – both protagonists find themselves out of place; Tom is looking to continue on his journey to regain his his humanity and Peter is stuck their after losing his ability to fly.

Thanks for rubbing it in.

Thanks for rubbing it in.

 

The islands of birds play different yet similar roles as stop-overs on the protagonists journeys of self-growth and development. For starters, both are sanctuaries from humanity. In Water Babies, the petrels tell Tom never to reveal the island’s location “lest men should go there and shoot the birds, and stuff them, and put them into stupid museums…” (Kingsley, 145). Likewise, in Peter Pan, Solomon’s island in Kensington Gardens is only reachable by air: “for the boats of humans are forbidden to land there, and there are stakes around it, standing up in the water, on each of which a bird sentinel sits by day and night” (Barrie, 16).

Seriously, who's giving me a ride?

Seriously, who’s giving me a ride?

The protagonists, stranded, must find a way off of each island. At these points of their respective stories, the protagonists’ goals are the same; both Tom and Peter are – even if not in the same ways – trying to become real humans again. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately  depending on perspective – only one of the two succeeds in this quest. While Tom regains his humanity and is better of than when he began, Peter is replaced by his family and spends his eternal youth playing in the gardens, perpetually stuck between being an animal and a man.

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The Gateway as a Trope

In much of Children’s fiction, the Child is transported to a fantastic land by means of a gateway of some kind.  C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” possesses one of the most literal and iconic of these gateways: the wardrobe.  narnia-wardrobe_1112147726

The rest of the series also possesses such portals or gateways:  a magic ring in “The Magician’s Nephew,” and a portrait in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”   C.S. Lewis was not the first to use this mechanism, though.

In L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” the twister transports Dorothy from Kansas to Munchkinland.

 

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Peter Pan and Wendy fly to the second star to the right.  Alice gets to Wonderland through means of the rabbit hole, and even in “The Water Babies,” Tom is transported when he falls in the river.

In modern times, the gateway has become a ubiquitous means of transporting the protagonist into a fantastic world, and has even departed the realm of Children’s Literature.  A machine turns a paraplegic into a nine foot tall blue man with a hair tail.  A girl travels through a tree in the middle of a labyrinth in Spain.  An entire team travels through an alien portal to various other worlds.  A man is transported by a church bell to 1920’s Paris.  Neo takes the red pill.

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Why has the portal to another world become so ubiquitous?  Perhaps it is because it is a simple way to show a distinct change between the real world and the fantastic one.  But perhaps it is because the  portal allows for the suspension of disbelief–once you go through the portal, anything can happen.

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The Water-Babies To Be Read By Children? Come On Now…

Let us be real. Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies may have centered on the entertaining of a child’s imagination, but within this literature there are numerous points to be made, prejudices, opinionated societal viewpoints, and many other subliminal messages (among very obvious messages) that the average child would not even begin to understand or even have the competence to know whereof to begin–yet alone the average adult.  Many of these messages are signaled to ethnic groups such as blacks or Irish, or “professionals” in the areas of education and medication. Such can be seen when Kingsley satirizes the doctors of his day in response to Professor Ptthmllnsprts’s sudden mental illness, “So all the doctors in the county were called in to make a report on his case; and of course every one of them flatly contradicted the other: else what use is there in being men of science? But at last the majority agreed on a report in the true medical language, one half bad Latin, the other half worse Greek, and the rest what might have been English, if they had only learnt to write it.” Here he shows the clumsiness of “men in science” and how they are always out to disprove one another in argument, using their ridiculous and complicated medical language, in which he further satirizes by presenting the reader with a sophisticated fabrication of long jumbled words to describe the professor’s illness–satirizing onwards by having My (His) Lady react in a shocking manner in response to the sophisticated medical vocabulary, then having Sir John “write to the TIMES to command the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being to put a tax on long words.” But it didn’t end there, for Kingsley went on to list all of the “stupid” and endless “remedies” that could have been used by doctors in hopes to cure the Professor’s illness; of course, none of the cures accomplishing the slightest of anything, which is of course one of Kingsley’s arguments. Eventually, the only successful cure became none other than writing–where the Professor begins writing about the moon being made of green cheese and birthing babies.

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Although I found many parts of Kingsley’s rant-like rambling (aforementioned above) quite entertaining and comical, it still yet seems to be no commonplace for Children’s Literature. Sure, the images of a nonsensical medical diagnosis with extensive vocabulary, an assortment of absurd remedies for treatment of the professor’s absurd condition, and a moon made of green cheese with millions of crawling babies all does seem quite normal for a children’s story and the entertaining of a child’s imagination; but, the path towards each image is, at times, unclear and too astray for a child to understand–yet alone an adult. The reader comes upon the scene of Tom (as a water-baby) being seen, clear as day, by the skeptical professor and the faithful Ellie, and thus a fairy manipulating the professor’s mind as to not reveal speculation of the water babies’ existence. With these images being quite clear to any reader, Kingsley persists with one of his “moments”, as I call them, where he elaborates on some social characteristic or, as in this case, a satirical allegory. Now, a child reading this will most certainly enjoy the images that are presented thereof; yet still may be so far off topic as to where the reader forgets how things even led up to, persay, a scientific explanation as to why babies could not exist on the moon, ” …It cannot be cold enough there about four o’clock in the morning to condense the babies’ mesenteric apophthegms into their left ventricles; and, therefore, they can never catch the hooping-cough; and if they do not have hooping-cough, they cannot be babies at all; and, therefore, there are no babies in the moon.”

…I rest my case.

Anyhow, another segment of the story that evermore convinces me that The Water-Babies isn’t designated towards an audience befitting children is another one of Kingsley’s “moments” of stray thoughts heading closer and closer into oncoming traffic (as I like to relate it). Here, Kingsley engages the reader upon the idea of the Water-babies. He neither tries to approve or disprove of them; though, he surely tries to legitimize the idea, but still reminds the reader of such superstitions that do arise in any and all fairy tales, “Don’t you know that this is a fairy tale, and all fun and pretence; and that you are not to believe one word of it, even if it is true?” But his argument is that, even though told as a fairy tale, water-babies may still thrive and dwell upon our world; nobody can readily discount the possibility of water-babies existing in all actuality. His reasons for so, I believe, are not all completely fit for being read by children, as they would be lucky to understand even half of his argument–which persists for an incredible ten paragraphs or so. First, he goes on about well-known professors and how, however much they know of nature, cannot disprove something that has not yet been seen or discovered (and he certainly emphasizes the word ‘cannot’, and how vile it is to make such a judgment): “And therefore it is, that there are dozens and hundreds of things in the world which we should certainly have said were contrary to nature, if we did not see them going on under our eyes all day long.”

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He continues to go on about how little seeds can grow to big trees, how an elephant at first discovery would go against previous  conceptions of “comparative anatomy”, how “flying dragons” were thought to only be myth and legend until skeletal remains of pterodactyls began appearing in dig sites, and how almost all that lives and dwells on land has a similar or almost exact comparison in water or in ocean. Then, he goes on about transformations found in nature such that as the butterfly, and how a human could, in all possibility, submit to the same transformations–such that as a land-baby’s metamorphosis into a water-baby.

All in all, I feel that Kingsley goes into too much depth when writing The Water-Babies. In contrast, the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales would have only spent at most two lines on the legitimacy of such a creature, as to make quick sense to a child and thus commit more time and detail to the actual story and its plot. Nevertheless, I find The Water-Babies to be a fantastic story and a unique glimpse back into historical perceptions, values, and descriptions of the natural world. Although I wouldn’t recommend this story to be read by “land-babies”, I highly encourage young and old adults alike to read this story–so long as they’re willing to succumb to such scattered thoughts and impressive imaginings as Kingsley’s.

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After reading the essay on canonization I was prompted to consider whether or not I would place/want to include The Water Babies into the canon. For me it was not whether or not the book is lacking interest, it has more to do with the content within the book.  The Water Babies promotes gender roles, racism, and social hierarchy.  These are outdated concepts that should not be continually given to children.

There are some very good lessons to be obtained by a child reading The Water Babies, such as “do not be lazy because your life will not turn out the way you may have hoped” and “treat others the way you want to be treated” are two very good lessons within this story.  However, racism is incredibly prevalent within the novel.  The chimney sweep Tom is called a “dirty black boy” while he is still working for Grimes.  This is a time when Tom is still dumb and has not learned the lessons, which will make him a more productive citizen.

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Even today we still hear the instructions, “boys will be boys” and “act like a lady.”  These phrases give allowances to boys for things such as being dirty, making a mess, fighting with other boys, and being loud and crazy.  However, oftentimes if a young girl were to do any of the above-mentioned actions she would be told to “act like a lady.”  As much as people like to think that things are equal and we do not apply the pressures of gender roles upon children still, this is not the case.  We are still priming boys to be tough and for girls to be quiet, submissive housewives.  This is seen in The Water Babies in several instances.  Ellie is a clean, quiet, young lady who is given a task to proof herself by teaching Tom.  Whilst, Tom is given the task of traveling all the way to the other end of nowhere where he encounters quite a few dangerous obstacles.  The gender roles being reinforced within the story could cause the children reading this book to fit themselves into these gender roles instead of following their own personality.

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The social classes are highlighted through the caste system Kingsley creates within the animals that Tom encounters.  Some examples of a social hierarchy can be seen first with the salmon.  Within different kinds of fish that we see the salmon are the kings of the fish and that trout are a species of fish that a salmon could be killed for if they decided to intermingle.  Also, the otter mother has a higher position since she will only eat food she deems worthy of her.  This promotes the idea of social classes to young children ,which causes difficulties with allowing children to be seen as worthy.

Perhaps, The Water Babies has a few good morals that young children can benefit from getting but it could also be at the cost of equality and self expression. The story is outdated, with references to things that children nowadays would not understand and with too many injustices against peoples other that the standard “white, British male.”   Therefore, it may be a good thing that The Water Babies is a story that is becoming forgotten.

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For the Future Educators…

Our class discussion on Tuesday really sparked some provoking thoughts in my head as to my future as an educator. I keep finding myself coming back to the discussion of what is appropriate to teach a child? What is appropriate to let them read? What morals should we allow them to understand and practice? All of these things I am going to be applying to my practice of teaching within this next year. So that’s just it; did Charles Kingsley have the right idea about mixing science, religion and imagination in his novel The Water Babies?

When I think about my future classroom, I think about having a well-rounded environment that provokes creativity, challenges the mind and also helps the children shape their future. Thus, I believe it is appropriate to mix a variety of topics into teaching children. We might think that because they are younger and have less life experience that they should not be exposed to a mixture of elements at one time because they could become confused. But if that is the case, then we are just like the parents that Kingsley was making fun of. Why shouldn’t we introduce religion and science? The theory of evolution does not fit with the teachings of the Bible, but that does not mean that religion lacks science. And the same goes with the realm of magical beings. They might not exist but why would we try and take away the imagination of a child? My tone may be harsh, but really think about these questions. Even if you are not to be an educator, you might have children one day. Would you want to limit their thinking?

The Water Babies is a great narrative to teach children many lessons. Tom started off as the unfortunate chimney sweep who ended up as a mystical water baby with a life much better than the one he had before. To a child, that is magical and mysterious. Kingsley makes learning fun in his novel. I know that when I stand in front of a classroom of eight year olds, they are going to be much more interested in learning about sea life and science through a book like The Water Babies then reading from a dry text book. I believe that by thinking the way that Charles Kingsley did when writing this novel, those of us who are becoming teachers can try to incorporate some of his methods into our own.

So really I am trying to get our class to think further about the discussion that was presented on Tuesday. I feel that the questions we asked were things we do not think about on a regular basis, but maybe we should. Think of yourself as a future teacher and would you be afraid to combine things like science, religion and imagination into your classroom and the minds of your students?

 

 

I also found this clip on YouTube that is from the 1978 version of The Water Babies movie! Its cheesy, but still makes what we read in class come to life! Hope you enjoy!

 

 

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The Water Babies: Out of the Sentimental Canon and Off of the Bookshelves

Charles Kingsley’s book, The Water Babies, is one of many books that, although popular at one point in time, has since declined in popularity and readership.  In her article, “Sentiment and Significance: The Impossibility of Recovery in the Children’s Literature Canon or, The Drowning of the Water Babies,” Deborah Stevenson asserts that although “academics note the text’s historical significance…Kingsley’s book no longer has a place in the sentimental canon; the chain of affection has been broken” (Stevenson 11).  Her distinction here between the sentimental and the academic canon is significant in the discussion of whether or not this book is appropriate for children today.

As we have discussed in class, scholars of children’s literature are uncomfortably aware that they are studying a genre of literature for which they are not the intended audience, and that the true intended audience (children) has no real input in the denoting of texts as part of the academic canon.  Those decisions are made by people such as librarians and teachers, who have pedagogical and didactic ends in mind.  Stevenson’s exclusion of The Water Babies from the academic canon would have implied that the powers that be (the librarians, teachers, and scholars) did not consider the text to be worthy of today’s children.  However, Stevenson specifically qualifies that The Water Babies has been excluded from the sentimental canon, and this exclusion carries with it another meaning entirely.

                                  

The sentimental canon is less isolated from the reactions of actual children to specific works of literature.  For example, perhaps children in the early 20th century read Kingsley’s The Water Babies and took delight in Tom’s adventures in the sea and wished that they too could be cuddled by Mrs. Bedoneasyouwouldbedoneby and corrected by Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid.  And then, assume that as adults, they attempted to pass on this hodge-podge of morals and nonsense to their own children.  This method no doubt worked for some, but there comes a point when a book of days gone by is no longer relevant to the current generation’s children, and, with each subsequent generation, the possibility of a book once again achieving status as beloved becomes less and less likely.

One of the primary reasons that The Water Babies would not be considered appropriate or worthwhile reading for children today is the inclusion of so many cultural references.  Back when the book was published, children would have known who Kingsley was referencing in his long tangents.  Today’s children would be utterly confused by the references to public figures of Kingsley’s day.  The inclusion of these references has in some ways done Kingsley a disservice, as it clearly dates his work.

Another reason that children today would be likely to turn up their noses at The Water Babies is its obvious moral overtones.  At the time of its publication, it would not have seemed overly moralistic or didactic at all since, prior to its publication, all that existed in the children’s literature market was entirely didactic.  But just because it was a breath of fresh air for children at the time, does not mean that the air hasn’t gone stale since.   Today’s children would be turned off by Kingsley’s clear interjections into the story and the obvious teaching moments found throughout the book.  Instead, today’s children want narratives that are fun and entertaining, and if the adults can manage to get a lesson in there without them noticing it, then all the better.

Because children who once loved this book grew into adults who were incapable of passing on the love of this book to subsequent generations (due to factors such as changing tastes and dated references), Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies is no longer a staple on any child’s bookshelf.

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Why I Do Not Consider The Water-Babies a Work of Children’s Literature

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It is well-documented that Charles Kingsley wrote The Water-Babies for his youngest son in 1863. While one of his goals was to instill a moral theme, the Golden Rule, for his child to abide by, I, for one, do not think that children should be the intended audience for this text. I feel this way because the text is rife with contradictions and assumptions. The majority of children are unable to garner the true meaning of this text by simply reading the words.

Contradiction seems to be the most observable theme of this text. While it causes chaos from the reader’s end, it is only stabilized by the very neutrality of Tom’s character. There are contradictions of evolution versus Christianity, and influences of good and evil, all of which are complete oppositions. The contradictions presented are more subtextual than overt. For example, the whole world of “water-babies” can be interpreted as a metaphor for an afterlife, yet within the afterlife, the creatures are subjects to evolution. I, for one, do not believe religion and science can coexist because they challenge each other.   Also, Mr. Grimes, Tom’s master, is a malicious figure who seems to indoctrinate Tom with a sense of “evil is right”. However, while Tom’s mind is still malleable, he encounters the Irishwoman, an amalgamation of different characters in one, who represents themes of goodness and purity. These ‘lessons’ are subjected to Tom, who is a perfect example of a tabula rasa, a blank slate, because his unique upbringing caused him to be a perfectly unadulterated figure.

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Kingsley takes a very unusual and questionable position in this text. He assumes that the reader is ‘untouched’ and liberated from ‘commitment’.  That’s very rare to find at his time period, because most children are indoctrinated, in a sense,  to be committed to some ideology, mostly Christianity.  For example, as he narrates the story, he speculates about mere existence. He mentions that anything conceivable that is not visible or tangible, cannot be dismissed or that it cannot be contrary to Nature.  Judging solely off this, it seems as if this text was perfectly written for an Agnostic, which practically a very infinitesimal amount of children are aware of that word or the meaning of it. While I strongly agree that children are very efficient at questioning, they are incapable of deep introspection and contemplation of lifelong questions.

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It is because of Kingsley’s wide use of contradiction and assumption, that this text cannot be classified as children’s literature.  While I appreciate the equal level of deliverance of Christianity versus evolution, I feel that both are subjects that are more appropriate for a certain maturity for appropriate contemplation and evaluation. This text seems very thought-provoking for an adolescent or adult because of the grander meaning of the text instead of what is physically written. That is why I feel this text is best classified under speculative fiction, because of its combinatorial essence of scientific elements and supernatural aspects.

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The Water Babies: A Guidebook for the Growing Gentleman

In The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley writes to children, particularly boys, about the story of Tom and his decisions in life that ultimately cause him to become a well-rounded and good adult. Kingsley instructs children through the utilization of many small lessons, which can be found throughout the book. For each encounter that Tom faces, there is a simple lesson to be learned for young boys.

In analyzing The Water Babies as a teaching tool, it is important to note that Kingsley wrote this story for a particular age group in the early 1860’s. Featured in Macmillan’s Magazine, this children’s story was an educational piece directed to Kingsley’s main audience: children. However, it is obvious that young girls are not included in this audience because Tom is a boy and his adventures are similar to situations that young British boys would likely encounter.

As for the actual lessons, Kingsley cleverly puts them in the text through Tom’s encounters with people and animals. For example, one of the first morals in the story involves religious salvation. The Irishwoman teaches Tom that those who wish to be clean will be. In this case, Kingsley is writing about the necessity of young boys to have the right heart that seeks to be spiritually clean. The feeling of wanting to be clean will enable them to reach salvation, just as it did Tom, who then left his fleshly body behind and became a water baby.

Another notable lesson is where Tom saves his lobster friend from a trap. This unselfish act of kindness is the trigger that allows Tom to see the other water-babies because it is necessary for Tom to have the right attitude. The lesson for young men is to do good to others in order to be a proper gentleman.

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Tom helping the lobster out of a trap.

A third lesson to be noted is when Tom must help Grimes, his mortal enemy, in order to become a human man again. The moral is simple because Kingsley is admonishing young men to help all people and have the right attitude to them, regardless of who they are and how many flaws they may have. Only when Tom realizes this can he have the chance as a totally grown and mature man.

Therefore, the obvious audience for this story when it was written was young British boys. However, since it’s creation in 1863, both the adults and children have changed drastically. Now, parents are not likely reading The Water Babies to their young children. Instead, the audience of this piece of children’s literature is for academic scholars, including university students. It appears that The Water Babies is important to analyze because of the many themes associated with it. Also, Kingsley was one of the very first authors to come up with this particular type of literature and much can be gleaned from studying his writing methods. Thus, the audience of The Water Babies changes as time moves on.

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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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