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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Tigger the Tiger Character Analysis

ImageThe character that most interested me in The House on Pooh Corner was the character of Tigger. Since he is one of my favorite characters, I was upset that be did not make his debut in the first series of Pooh stories, but was enamored by him in Pooh Corner. Tigger is a tiger-like character with an extreme love of bouncing who was modeled after one of Christopher Robin’s stuffed animals.

He is introduced in Chapter II. He appears in the middle of the night at Pooh’s doorstep and startles him. His relationships with the other characters evolve Imageduring the search for a food that Tigger could eat for breakfast. He lives with Kanga and Roo in the Hundred Acre Wood and plays a pivotal role in the stories following his introduction.

What interested me most was comparing A.A. Milne’s version of Tigger and the better-known version popularized by Disney.

Disney added several characteristics to the character to make him more distinguishable. Until I read The House on Pooh Corner I had no idea that his spring of a tail was not the author’s original invention. Disney took his love of bouncing and expanded on the idea. Disney did stay true to his relations with other characters. He is overly enthusiastic in his encounters, which makes him appeal to Kanga and Roo but annoy Rabbit.

In each adaption that followed A.A. Milne, Tigger bounces on less body parts. He originally began bouncing on four legs. He is depicted this way in Ernest H. Shepard’s illustrations. However, in the Disney version, he only bounces on his tail.

ImageTigger made his first Disney debut in 1968 in Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. He has progressed from a background character to the main attraction and was featured as the star of his own film, The Tigger Movie, in 2000. While Pooh is the face and name of the series, Tigger had pulled his own fame separate from the shadow of our favorite bear. It is fair to say that Disney was able to create a more lovable Tigger while staying true to the character imagined by A.A. Milne.

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Mary and her garden

The Secret Garden is a magical tale that deals with the healing powers inherent in having a good soul and a good attitude.  Mary’s transformation from a sour puss to a sweet young girl is just one example of the magic she experienced from the goodness of the people around her like Martha and Dickon.  Colin undergoes a similar experience when Mary and Dickon treat him with love and respect and share their secrets with him.

The novel revolves around the transformation of the two children as much as it revolves around the secret garden.  I believe the secret garden could act as a metaphor for Mary’s change into a good little girl.

When Mary finds the garden, she is already starting to become a nicer child.  Her fascination with the robin and her conversations with Ben Weatherstaff have softened a very small part of her.  When she finds the garden, it is overrun with weeds and dead branches, but at the same time, she sees the beauty that’s hiding under all of that and imagines the way it could be if someone would just take the time to take care of it.

As Mary weeds the garden, color comes to her face and she looks more like a natural child instead of her cold, frigid self.  She pulls out the grass and gives the sprouts space to breathe, much as the fresh air from the moor gives Mary more room to breathe and the fresh air does her good.

As Dickon enters the situation, the garden begins to come to life just as Mary begins to become a real child with a real friend her own age.  She becomes enraptured by Dickon and Dickon is obsessed with nature, content to prune it and make it come alive, just as Mary comes alive around him.

Spring comes and the garden blooms completely, but not before Mary has her ultimate transformation and that comes at the hands of Colin.  Mary’s love for him changes her into a good person with a good soul.  Her sympathy for him and her concern for his illness and her faith that he can become strong and healthy all coalesce to make her become a sweet young girl.  Understanding the ways that Colin is selfish and spoiled helps cure her of her own spoiled nature.  When the garden comes into full bloom, Mary, too, comes into herself completely and becomes the sweet little girl she always could’ve been, and the girl the garden helped her to become.

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Character Analysis: The Psammead

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The Psammead, in my opinion, is the most fascinating character among the texts that I’ve read thus far in LIT 4334. It is depicted as a very grotesque looking character, but through the monstrous appearance there is an amalgamation of nuances that add to the interesting nature of the Psammead. It is described to have eyes like a snail, ears like a bat, a body like a spider, hands and feet like a monkey, and whiskers like a rat. All these descriptions make me think that the Psammead has unparalleled senses, specifically sight, sound, and touch, and this unique trait adds to the unworldly persona of the Psammead. The fact that this is the only Psammead left in existence speaks to the special opportunity that the five children experience. The Psammead has distant memories of events that have long transpired, but can remember them with proficiency. This truly is a sentient beast to a high extreme. In the very beginning of the book, it is told that Psammead is used to granting wishes that are mundane and boring, but the wishes that the children ask the Psammead for are too unfamiliar and too fantastic, that the old standard of wishes being set to stone if unused after a day no longer applies.

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The Psammead interacts with the children through a series of wishes, which it grants. The children ask to be beautiful, to be rich, to have wings, to be allowed in the castle, and to give a wealthy woman’s jewelry to their mother. All of these wishes are materialistic and only cause a degradation of self because they are all complacent wishes, which I believe is why they all cause something to go wrong with each wish. The Pssamead is sort of like a theological or supernatural entity that answers prayers, as it were, but for some unusual reason is portrayed as an ugly, grotesque monster instead of a seraphic being. The Psammead tires of their wishes, and tells them no longer to ask for any more wishes, but the Psammead tells Anthea that the wish she had of all the children being able to see it again will be granted. This wish will/ is granted most likely because it is selfless and is in some sense directed toward the Psammead, causing it to feel appreciated and loved.

Without the Psammead in the text, the story would be utterly nonsensical and without a cohesive plot. The Psammead is the very central character of this story. It is the nucleus of the cell that is the entire text. Without its ability to grant wishes, the children would not have had the adventures that they did, and would not have gone grown as children.

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Lamb as a Teaching Tool

In Five Children and It by E. Nesbit the character that most interested me was the Lamb and his use as a character to teach morals to the other children. Lamb was the victim of a few of the children’s wishes but was also used to transform the other four siblings internally by the end of the tale.

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Lamb was the subject of a wish gone wrong when the children wished someone else wanted the child. That wish turned into everyone wanting the child and the children had to fight off kidnappers to protect their younger brother. I believe this was the first lesson used to teach the children the importance of family, and the need to protect family no matter what.

Lamb and his rapid transformation into adulthood was the second wish made that could have potentially hurt Lamb. What was puzzling to me about his transformation was his rude character and demeanor. His adult self seemed very contrasted from his siblings. When he first shifted I was under the impression he would simply become the version of himself he was meant to grow into, but judging by those who surrounded him it is my belief that this reflected a Lamb made by magic and not what he could have potentially been.

I think this wish was used to teach the children the dangers of growing up too quickly. The children attempted to take control of their own lives by wishing everything they wanted. Controlling one’s future is an adult responsibility, and I think the negative consequences that came after each wish were meant to teach the children to be patient and not rush out of childhood.

I think Lamb as a character served to teach the four children a lessen more so than just to be one of the children. His infant age from the very beginning makes him unique amongst the five. He has this sense of innocence not only because he is so young but also because he himself is the only one who does not make any wishes. He is affected by the wishes of his siblings and even when he is transformed into an adult he does not ask anything of the Psaammead. One of the reasons his absence of wishing preserves his innocence because he is not the direct cause of any of the negative consequences. He is not responsible for the unfortunate side effects of the wishes. The other siblings were forced to lose a piece of their childhood in order to resolve some of these issues they created by lying or being deceitful. This creates a greater divide between the innocence of Lamb and the others.

ImageThe only slight loss of innocence experienced by Lamb is when he transforms into an adult, Hilary or St Maur, for a day. During this time, Land is rude and even attempts to go off with a woman. However, even in this situation Lamb was not responsible for his own mistakes. In my opinion, the adult he turned into is not reflective of the adult he would have grown up to be. I believe this is so because of my earlier distinction of how different his character was from the other children. It is likely that he would have grown up similar to the others instead of the character he temporarily portrayed. My belief is that by turning back into a child he will have a second chance to maintain his childhood and grow into a child then adult more similar to the others. In this situation, Lamb will serve as a tool to teach the other children as well as himself.

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Racial Tensions in Peter Pan Adaptations: Then and Now

J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan has endured in the hearts of both children and adults since he first appeared in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Though this character has served as a classic symbol for childhood and children’s literature, he also indicates a much more racist period in culture and history.

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“The Great White Father” was the working title of the original play by J.M. Barrie. This references racist elements of the story Peter Pan and Wendy and of Peter’s character. Though the play’s producer ultimately rejected this title, the term “redskin,” borrowed from United States racial jargon, was still used in the play to specify indigenous populations. The way that Barrie depicts the indigenous characters, too, denotes stereotypically savage behavior of an aggressive tribe out to wreak havoc on the Lost Boys, a group of young white children, when they think the Boys snatched the chief’s daughter.

Interestingly enough, it seems that more recent adaptations have sought to address and correct such blatantly racist implications. The 2003 film adaptation Peter Pan provides one example of this. In the original book and play (and most adaptations) the characters Wendy and Tiger Lily often stand in direct contrast. Even though they are both women, and depicted as weaker than Peter, Wendy is presented as stronger and more intelligent than Tiger Lily, her indigenous counterpart. Tiger Lily, on the other hand, is very helpless and has hardly anything (intelligent or otherwise) to say. In Peter Pan (2003), however, Tiger Lily, played by an Iroquois actress, does not play into this earlier established stereotype. Instead, she is depicted as a fiery, defiant young lady, who stands her ground against Captain Hook. She even contrasts her original damsel-in-distress depiction and actively saves John Darling from a band of pirates.

While there are racial tensions that will never be able to be completely taken out of Peter Pan adaptations without changing the story, recent adaptations, such as 2003’s Peter Pan successfully combats some of the racial prejudices illustrates in Barrie’s original book and play.

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“Hook or me this time!”

In Peter Pan and Wendy, J.M. Barrie introduces a new character: Captain James Hook. I find it interesting that Barrie would choose to place a “grown-up” in Neverland, regardless of the fact that he is a pirate—a popular source of imaginative entertainment. Hook is described as “cadaverous and blackavized” with long, dark curls and blue eyes that are “profoundly melancholy, save when he was plunging his hook into you, at which time two red spots appeared in them and lit them up horribly” (Barrie 41).  Of course, he is also known for his hook as a hand. Hook is further described as courageous and always attempting to have good form though he fears only the sight of his own blood and the crocodile that lies in wait for him. PeterPan_HookBut why is he such an important figure in the story? Hook is the perfect foil to Peter—he represents what Peter could become. They are similar in that they both have lost their mothers in some way and they both feel lonely. We know from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens that Peter waited too late to fully return to his mother before finding that the window was barred and that he had been replaced. Hook alludes to his own mother leaving on page 68 when he speaks of the Never bird. Both Peter and Hook have had unfortunate pasts involving their mothers. Hook feels lonely, especially around his crew because they are beneath and therefore can’t understand him. Peter, a sort of captain of the Lost Boys in his own right, feels lonely in that he is the only child who does not grow up. Everyone leaves him eventually, though he constantly tries to replace them. Hook doesn’t like Peter because of his cockiness. Peter doesn’t like Hook not just because he is a villain but, I believe, because he is a grown up and Peter recognizes the similarities between Hook and himself—“Hook or me this time.” Only one can exist, and of course Peter must triumph.

Hook’s obsession with good form is pivotal in the story. He attempts to maintain good form even though he is technically the villain of the story. But this obsession proves that he may not be completely bad. In this case, Hook transforms from a villain to warning in that Peter could become like Hook. When he thinks Peter is dead, he is at a loss at what to do with himself now that he has followed through with his revenge. He now would serve no real purpose if Peter was truly dead. Yet when Hook dies, Peter has his string of “mothers” and all the lost children.

Although Hook is a grown-up and Peter is forever a child, it becomes apparent that if Peter were to grow up he would mirror Hook. If Hook had been excluded from the story, Peter would meet no obstacles from a sort of authority figure. He would just become a childish young dictator who flies on the seat of his pants and has mommy issues.

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An In-depth Analysis of Peter Pan

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In J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Peter Pan is portrayed as a young boy who never ages or grows up.  He never has a birthday, nor does he ever plan on having one.  He escaped from being a human boy when he flew, without wings mind you, out of his own bedroom window when he was just a baby.  Peter Pan flew to Kensington Gardens and resided there permanently; Barrie described the escape as a “youthful desire” to escape to the treetops, showing us, readers, that it is a natural and youthful characteristic to want to escape.  It is in Kensington Gardens that readers are able to see the way Peter interacts with other characters and his environment, thus explaining a great deal about his character.  The first time he arrived in Kensington Gardens was Lock-out time, when all the fairies and Nature’s creations came to life.  Every living thing in the garden shunned him at the sight of him, and Peter cried.  This shows readers that Peter may be emotionally weak or weak-minded or even the type of character who seeks out companionship; most importantly, however, it reminds us that he is still just a baby when he first escapes and arrives in the garden.  Also, Peter meets the head of the birds on the island, Solomon Caw, and he respects him very much because he is old and wise.  Solomon Caw calls him a “betwixt-and-between,” meaning that he is neither fully bird nor human, and Peter believes him as he takes on the title (Barrie 17).  Solomon Caw’s description of Peter shows us that Peter experiences an identity crisis; he does not know who or what he is or where he belongs.  This is further emphasized when we see his memories of his human life fading and as all the birds never get used to his presence on the island.  Peter felt out of place and never fit in.  To the reader, Peter may seem like an innocent, adventurous boy.  Barrie even encourages this image of Peter when he says, “But you must not think that Peter Pan was a boy to pity rather than to admire; if Maimie began by thinking this, she soon found she was very much mistaken” (Barrie 58).  Barrie praises Peter and encourages readers to admire him instead of pity him.  However, when one closely analyzes his actions and his interaction with other characters and his environment, one can see that Peter is actually a young child who needs to be pitied.  He feels out of place, he experiences an identity crisis at a very young age, and furthermore, he feels neglected, which becomes especially apparent when he returns home for the second time to find that his window has been closed and barred with his mother inside with another replacement boy.  Peter Pan is the archetype of children who are forced to grow up in the shadows of their siblings while feeling neglected by their mothers, just as Barrie did in his own childhood.

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Barrie was one of seven children.  Two of his older brothers were esteemed academics, one of them, David, being the most favored by their mother, Margaret Ogilvy.  Barrie was the youngest and was, arguably, “another mouth to feed” in Margaret’s eyes.  His mother favored David and much of her attention was on him, even when he died tragically in a skating accident.  Even then, her attention was still focused on David through her mourning.  Barrie went as far as to emulate David in order to gain some affection and attention from his own mother.  Barrie is like Peter Pan in these ways.  The most pivotal moment in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is when Peter says, “It isn’t fair to take you [Maimie] with me if you think you can go back!  Your mother […] you don’t know them as well as I do” (Barrie 61).  Peter says this in response to Maimie’s utter confidence in the notion that her mother would want her and wait for her forever.  Peter disagrees with Maimie and says that all mothers are the same in that they do not want their children, therefore they will not wait for them to return.  These ill feelings towards mothers can be directly related to Barrie’s personal life.  So the character of Peter Pan is actually Barrie, in the sense that both feel neglected and find an identity crisis through a disconnect between the adult world and the child world; furthermore, both Pan and Barrie reserve ill feelings towards a mother figure.  Peter Pan may seem adventurous and boyish, when in fact, he is a pitied, neglected, and troubled young boy, which readers can see through his interactions to other characters and environment and also through a connection to the author’s personal life.

 

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Big Brother Oz

America invades Oz: close analysis of the Wizard

The Wizard of Oz himself is a conman who just happened to arrive in a new land surrounded by good circumstance. He rose to power because of the people’s desires to believe in someone, and not because of his own skill set. Oz is clearly commentary on government and how capitalism and greed transforms governing powers, but I wanted to shift this commentary from the Emerald City as a whole and focus solely on the mastermind behind the transformation in Oz.

ImageIn the popular 1939 film adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, the conman predicting Dorothy’s future in the beginning of the film is the same man who plays the Wizard at the end of the film. I did not see this parallel until I was older, but once I noticed I also saw the parallels between their actions. Despite the characters’ means of achieving his goals, he typically had good intentions. The conman at the beginning of the film wanted to get Dorothy to go home and tricked her into doing so. The Wizard wanted Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion to emulate the qualities they desired instead of being handed them. He also wanted Oz to flourish, and did so in the only way he knew how: introduce the people to money. These actions remind me of government protection. The whole “we are doing this for your own good” mantra that gives purpose to the idea of Big Brother in this country.

ImageWicked is a popular Broadway musical that tells the story of the witches of Oz. The story follows Glinda, a good witch, and Elphaba, who eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. In this version of the tale, the Wizard is responsible for stripping animals of their rights, but the biggest twist not seen in the original tale is that he plans to use Elphaba’s power to keep up his allusion of wizardry to the people. This technique, again, ties to the Big Brother idea of government in the U.S. Who and what exactly is controlling us? One of the problems with our government is the limited amount of transparency. The play Wicked as well as the other adaptations of Oz criticize the need for transparency in government to not only create a sense of mutual trust between citizens and those in power, but also to avoid abuse of power.

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There’s No Place Like Home—Even if Home Certainly Isn’t Made of Emeralds

L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz presents the story of a young orphaned girl named Dorothy Gale who lives a seemingly mundane life on a farm in the dry plains in Kansas.  Although her exact age is unclear, it seems obvious throughout the story that she is still quite young and fairly immature—a result of her age, not to be mistaken with a more derogatory connotation.  She is a product of her environment, which is presented to the reader as not being highly desirable.  As a result of being orphaned, she is raised by Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, who are assumed to be an actual aunt and uncle but could simply be a foster family taking care of the child.  Needless to say, aside from her prized pet dog, Todo, there do not seem to be many sources of happiness in her life, which could arguably make anyone wish for an interesting adventure or escape.

The more popularized film adaptation of this story enlisted Judy Garland to portray the role of Dorothy.  I feel that she brings the role of a hopeless young girl blissfully wishing for an escape from reality more to light, namely in her singing “Over the Rainbow,” a song describing escaping to a place where “bluebirds fly” and dreams that you “dare to dream, really do come true.”  In reading the story, we find that the young girl meets other characters, who are also seeking a change in their current lives.  Dorothy seeks an escape while the Cowardly Lion seeks courage, the Tin Man seeks a heart, and as a result, love, and the Scarecrow seeks brains and consequently intelligence.  The three travel together until they find the Wizard, who can make all of their wishes come true as long as they withhold their end of the bargain in getting rid of the Wicked Witch of the West.  They put themselves in immense danger in trying to do so, until eventually Dorothy, in a tantrum resulting from the theft of a prized silver shoe that was gifted to her prior in the book, exterminates the witch using a bucket of water conveniently placed near her.

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Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz”

The interesting thing about this story to me is that while the other three characters seem to receive what they originally wished for, Dorothy’s final wish at the conclusion of her journey is to simply go back to her home in Kansas.  Could the adventure filled with anthromorphic animals, unknown creatures, witches, wizards, magic, flying monkeys, and wishes have been too much for a young girl to handle?  Could Dorothy have received much more than she bargained for in venturing from the plains of Kansas to the Emerald City in the Land of Oz?  As a reader, I believe the answer to these questions is, “Yes.”  Dorothy Gale is a young girl who seeks a change in the life she is living, but later realizes that perhaps the comfort of an uninteresting life is more desirable than the peril of adventure.  She receives a glimpse of the Land of Oz, perhaps through mere imagination or a dream rather than an actual journey, and seeks to visit again, but eventually wishes to be back in Kansas.  To me, this seemed like an appropriate end to the story of a child, as while most of us sought some sort of adventure in life and our imaginations definitely aided this process, oftentimes no matter the circumstances, there really is no place like home.

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