LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Pinocchio’s Existential Crisis

When the class was informed that Carlo Collodi’s original ending to his classic children’s tale involved the death of Pinocchio, sans resurrection, I believe I heard a subtle, yet collective gasp under the breath of everyone present. We had all grown up on the somewhat scarring Disney version of the children’s tale, but upon reading Collodi’s version, were faced with many inconsistencies that threw us off the image we could all conjure by memory. Pinocchio dying and never having the chance to be reincarnated as a fleshy human child–it’s absurd to think that Italian children everywhere were almost subjected to such an unsettling idea.

Pinocchio’s sardonic wit and dark humor is already hard enough for children to swallow, but the thought of introducing a main character that dies (and isn’t transformed into something religiously or morally symbolic). Pinocchio’s death would’ve been the ultimate sucker punch to the Italian children. It may have had a greater impact influencing children to obey their parents and resist running away from home, but undoubtedly there would be an epidemic of juvenile anxiety disorders.

Collodi, rather, focused on the satire and the farce within the story, avoided the sentimentality that Disney painted over the story with. It seems, then, that Glauco Cambon’s essay on Pinocchio holds true to the fact the Collodi’s tale may not be as appropriate for children as we like to think it is. Pinocchio is an unscrupulous renegade, ready to chase after his most visceral desires–at any cost. He is both at the command and mercy of his pleasures. Cambon recognizes that beneath the surface of Pinocchio, Collodi inserted political and philosophical satire. Perhaps originally, Pinocchio was so overwhelmed with nihilistic angst and existential grief, that Collodi had no other choice but to have him die (again, not to “kid friendly,” in my opinion).

Since the ending was changed, and Pinocchio survives and becomes a real boy, I guess we’ll never know.


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The Princess and the Puppet: Contrasts in Presentation


In both The Princess and the Goblin and The Adventure of Pinocchio, the authors present the audience with moral lessons and values. These lessons, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, and are designed to instruct and develop children into responsible and respectable adults. While both MacDonald and Collodi present these lessons, one big difference in these stories is the method of delivery; the polite and courageous Irene and Curdie stand in stark contrast to the frustratingly mischievous Pinocchio in providing examples to children. MacDonald presents the reader with Curdie and Irene, both excellent examples of nobility, honor, courage and humility to stress these values and to teach the audience his moral lessons. Collodi on the other hand gives the audience Pinocchio, the character who teaches us everything not to do while stumbling from bad decision to bad decision. While the development is more evident when the character starts with a lack of virtue – as Pinocchio clearly did – both strategies can yield the desired effect of teaching kids how to be good. Both authors tie in the lessons to their stories and both stories have a relatively clear moral imperative that is rather accessible and clear. The dueling delivery styles are not mutually exclusive however, as The Princess and the Goblin showed with characters like Harelip and the Goblin Queen and as The Adventures of Pinocchio demonstrated with the blue-haired fairy. These characters served to create dynamic contrast between the characters; whether to highlight the virtuous Princess Irene and Curdie or to emphasize the failings of Pinocchio, these supporting roles were important in developing stronger protagonists and helped refine and guide them on their quests. In the end, both stories deliver potent lessons important in the development of children into adults; whether learned from the strong examples set by the characters in The Princess and the Goblin or acquired in the trials and tribulations that Collodi puts his characters through in The Adventures of Pinocchio.

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Pinocchio the Jackass

Symbolism of the Donkey


Collodi’s version of Pinocchio is an obvious attempt to teach young boys, or children in general, how to be good, but the severe punishments are atypical to techniques used in many other children’s literature stories of the time. One particular punishment Pinocchio endures that puzzled me was his transformation into a donkey. Why a donkey? Why did the author choose this animal over others? What traits or characteristics does the donkey possess that would parallel the wrongs of the boys?


In Italy, where the original tale was written, the donkey symbolized stupidity or lack of use of the brain. Depicted in the tale as well as the most recent Disney adaptation, the place where children go to escape is intended to bring out idiotic behaviors or to “make jackasses out of the boys.” In the tale, the children literally turn into jackasses (another name for donkey) when they reach a certain level of stupidity or when enough time has passed so that it is unlikely the children will ever recommit to their studies.


Donkeys also can depict laziness, which mirrors the boy’s actions in this chapter of the story. In this case, the donkey symbolizes the desire to not do anything productive but to spend time playing and avoiding responsibilities.


In the 1940 Disney film, you can see the degree to which the “curse” transforms the boys due to level of idiocy, mischievous behaviors, or the level of inherent “jackassness” depicted by the individual. The boys who were not as ill mannered kept their voices for longer or transformed at a later date all together. Those who were good in their heart and core were unaffected, such as the cricket in the Disney film whom spent a long period of time in the play land but was not affected at all. This condition of the transformation implies that the transformation was only intended to bring out what is already underneath the surface. No jackass will be displayed if one is not already a jackass by personality (clever Collodi.)

This relates back to Collodi’s underlying impression of little boys in general: they are all jackasses at some level, but some are more than others. The transformation of boys to donkeys in Pinocchio is meant to externalize the boys’ inner character.

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Lying and Nose Growth

In Walt Disney’s animated film Pinocchio, supposedly every time Pinocchio lies, his nose becomes longer per lie, which puts forward a moral for this film’s intended child audience.  Pinocchio is depicted as naïve and a bit naughty, but he learns that lying is wrong due to the lie-detecting and –revealing functions of his nose.  However, in the original written work, Pinocchio is definitely a naughty and rambunctious “child” puppet, and in Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, there is a lot of wooden nose growing and lying on the part of this puppet protagonist, but it is not all as consistent as in the Disney version.

Old Joe trying to carve down Pinocchio's growing nose.            In Chapter 3 of Collodi’s published novel, Pinocchio is carved out of wood, and as soon as Old Joe got to work on the nose, it started to grow longer and longer.  At this point he had not carved out Pinocchio’s mouth yet, and so the reason for the growth in this first appearance is not lying.  However, when Pinocchio has recovered at the Fairy’s house in Chapter 17, he lies to the Fairy about the location of his gold coins, and with each lie, his nose grows to an obscene length.  He cannot even turn in the room without harm.  The title of this chapter even bluntly describes his nose lengthening as the resulting negative consequence for lying: “How Pinocchio … tells a lie and as a punishment his nose grows long.”  Here are two cases of nose growth in the book, which do not consistently link lying and nose growth.

Pinocchio also lies many times throughout the novel, and not on all occasions does his nose react the way it does in the Disney film version of the story.  In Chapter 32, Pinocchio has started to transform into a Donkey in The Land of Toys and has acquired ears.  He then visits Candle-Wick, and the two boys share lies about why they are wearing night caps:

“‘… my dear Pinocchio, why are you wearing this cotton nightcap pulled down to your nose?’

‘The doctor prescribed it because I’ve got a sore foot.’  (Collodi 133)

Although the reader knows that Pinocchio is plainly lying, there is not the expected consequence.  Then again in Chapter 36 Pinocchio lies to his father about going into town to buy himself nice clothes.  He did not buy clothes because he gave his earnings to the Fairy’s snail in order to help financially support his Fairy mother/sister who is then poor and sick in the hospital unable to feed herself.  After this encounter between the wooden puppet and the Snail, Pinocchio returns home and tells his inquiring father that he could not find clothes that “suited” him (Collodi 167).  Once again, Pinocchio is not punished for lying.  In fact, we could even classify this lie he told Old Joe as a white lie since Pinocchio’s lie does not hurt anyone but only hides his kind act, but it is still a lie left without the expected consequence if one is thinking about the widely popular Disney movie version.

In Collodi’s Pinocchio there is an instance of nose growth that isn’t preceded by a lie, and there is an instance where Pinocchio tells lies and then his wooden nose’s length increases.  Then to contrast this latter scene of lying, there are at least two notable scenes where Pinocchio lies but with no elongation of his nose.  Is there anything to this?  It is understandable why Walt Disney’s version of the story consistently and reliably links lying and nose growth to teach the audience not to lie.  The moral it imparts is that lying is bad and will be punished.  However, due to the inconsistencies in the original, was it Collodi’s intention to impart the same lesson?

            I do believe that Collodi did intend to teach children not to lie if one were to look at Chapter 17 by itself.  Pinocchio was initially serialized, meaning that the readers got to read each chapter singly as each chapter was published in a weekly reader.  Thus, the inconsistencies regarding lying and nose growth are most likely not planned and a result of a serialized and episodic format.  Despite that, I feel that this may more accurately represent reality.  In reality, sometime we feel negative effects, like Pinocchio’s first nose growth, without understanding the reasoning behind it or without ever having done something to deserve it.  Sometimes, we do get punished for our naughty actions like Pinocchio does in Chapter 17 at the Fairy’s house, and sometimes, we get away with lying, like Pinocchio did in the Land of Toys.  White lies are usually not seen as punishable acts because they hide good intentions, and so, usually we are not punished for a lie that causes no harm, such as in the last example of Pinocchio’s lie to his father about not buying clothes.  I feel that creating this interpretation may not have been Collodi’s intent, but due to the episodic nature of the story and the episodic, anecdotal nature of human lives, I do feel that it is not a wrong interpretation.  People lie, and sometimes they feel the negative consequences for it and sometimes not as Pinocchio experienced himself.

Collodi, Carlo. Pinocchio. Trans. Ann Lawson Lucas. New York: Oxford, 2009. Print.

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