LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Role of the Man in The Wizard of Oz

I wanted to expand upon a comment I wrote about gender roles in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

As I said, I think that the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man all have a duality to their nature.  The Scarecrow is on a masculine search, the search for brains.  He proves his worth to the group time and time again by coming up with schemes and ideas to get them across rivers or across canyons.  When Oz is in need of a new leader, he is the first choice, represented as the smartest, the best, and the most capable.

The Lion is also on a manly search for courage, but initially, he is shy and scared.  Throughout the story he comes into his manliness, becoming stronger and more brave, and able to protect the group.  He has a moment of weakness in the field of poppies and requires the help of little field mice to help him out, but his bulk and his weight which makes it a bit of a more difficult process assert his inherent masculinity.

The Tin Man is lovesick and on a journey for a new heart, so it’s reasonable to suggest that he would be more of an effeminate character, but throughout the novel he proves his manliness time and time again by cutting down trees, constructing rafts, and killing attackers to keep the group safe and sound on their journey to see Oz.

Both the Lion and the Scarecrow’s journey is a quest to become more masculine and even though the Tin Man’s desire for a heart is more effeminate, he too goes through a transformation into a stronger, more capable man.

Through these examples, Baum explores the idea that to be a man is to be in a position of power.  It requires cunning and bravery and strength.  Men are the leaders and the protectors of his world.

The only women in power are the witches, who are represented as either good or evil.  The good witches are ladylike and good and pure who bestow kisses on lost little girls to protect them, and the evil ones are simply easily destroyed, or cast away characters.  The only way to survive as a woman in the land of Oz is to be good and innocent like Dorothy and the good witches.

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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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Fairy Tales: Depicting the Development of Female Gender Roles

          For centuries, fairy tales have permeated many cultures and societies. While these tales often served to entertain children and/or teach them morals, they also serve as reflections of the societies and time periods in which their numerous versions developed, spread, and were transcribed. In particular, the evolution of many tales follows the development of gender roles and expectations of the societies in which they originated. This can be seen in how many popular tales have adapted over time and are depicted in popular culture today.

            In many traditional fairy tales, female characters fell into a dichotomy, filling the role of the heroine or the villain. The heroine was a depiction of the ideal young woman: beautiful, compassionate, youthful, calm, and often naïve. The female villain is depicted as older, often a mother figure (or stepmother), who is cunning, jealous, and downright malicious. This could be seen in tales such as “Cinderella” and “Snow White,” both of which featured a young, beautiful, virtuous young woman at odds with a malicious, jealous stepmother. This dichotomy reflected the common conceptions of women during the time that they were told and transcribed, as women were valued for their beauty, youth, and virtue, while ambitious, scheming, outspoken women were seen as tainted, inappropriate and improper.

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Cinderella startled by her stepmother’s reflection as she comes up behind her.

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Snow White and her stepmother disguised as an old beggar.

            With the dawn of filmmaking in the 20th century, fairy tales began to appear in a new medium, and eventually became wildly popular. In recent years, we have seen a resurgence of this wild popularity in many different forms, such as film, television, and music, and in adaptations that reflect modern depictions of gender roles. For example, in the 2012 movie Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White, though similar to film adaptations of earlier films, is depicted as much stronger, outspoken, and motivated, as the audience sees her suit up in armor and fight for the kingdom that was rightfully hers. In another adaptation of “Snow White,” Mirror, Mirror, also released in 2012, the audience watches as an in-control, and clever Snow White feeds her stepmother a poisonous apple originally meant for herself. These films are just a few examples of contemporary adaptations of traditional fairy tales, with more outspoken, clever, and go-getting modern heroines that are much more reflective of the typical woman in our American society today.

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