LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Malnutrition and Imaginary Meals in Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan

Upon looking for sources for my paper, I stumbled upon an article that talked about how hunger and malnutrition are represented in Alice in Wonderland, as a commentary on the famines of the Victorian era. According to the article, Lewis Carroll included the tiny pieces of food, about the place, to express that Alice is essentially scrounging for her meals. She is lucky to stumble upon something, but is often left looking about for more food to return her to normal. In the Victorian era, there were enormous food shortages, causing the price of food to be raised to an intolerable level. As a result, meals became hard to come by. Considering Lewis Carroll saw this occurring, and experienced it himself, he felt the need to use it as a theme in Alice in Wonderland, and seek a solution for it.
At one point, in the novel, Alice meets the caterpillar, smoking atop a giant mushroom. When leaving, he tells her that one side will make her small, and one side will make her big. Alice then attempts to regain her original size, and upon doing so, realizes the value of the mushroom. From then on, Alice stores the mushroom pieces in her apron, thinking that she can use them as needed. This mushroom is thus Carroll’s solution for Victorian society–to find food in nature.

In Peter and Wendy, the lost boys complain about having to occasionally make believe their dinners. I personally found this to be one of the most pitiable situations in the book, and I was curious as to why J. M. Barrie might have written such scenes. After reading about the high price of food in the Victorian era, I wondered if perhaps Barrie was also making a commentary about the Edwardian era, through Peter and Wendy, by expressing that, due the food shortages, little boys and girls sometimes had to imagine they had meals. The Edwardian era, however, was described as a golden age between the Victorian era and World War I, hence I am led to believe that the food shortages improved. What I did read was about a Poor Law that was implemented, which gave relief funds to unemployed women, but not to unemployed able-bodied males. As a result, if one was married to an unemployed male, one was cut off from funds, as well. Upon reading this, I wondered about the financial situation of the Davies boys, and if the imaginary meals were an idea thought up by Barrie to quell their growling stomachs, rather than that of society as a whole. Children often play make believe, when it comes to tea parties, but in Peter and Wendy there is an obvious expression that these boys are hungry, despite having nothing,

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The Double Edged Sword: Wishing in Five Children and It (Theme Analysis and Criticism)

Be careful what you wish for…

Five Children and It is a seemingly simple story that shows why people cannot always get what they wish for and if they do, it carries unexpected problems. This theme, however, is a very interesting theme to tackle in a children’s book, especially since children are the demographic most likely to wish for unrealistic things. Children also usually do not weigh the pros and cons of situations and only work toward their idealized goal. In the novel, this idea materializes through the five children’s various wishes, ranging from wanting to be beautiful to wanting to be rich. However, each wish carries unforeseen consequences that always results in the wish providing more harm than good.

“What do you weirdos want now?!”

In my opinion, I think Nesbit included this theme as the ultimate moral of the story. Although morals are often presented at the end of children’s books, I think it was very intelligent of Nesbit to repeatedly convey the moral through different yet similar scenarios. However, I found the execution of the theme to be lackluster. As an adult reading this, I found the constant failings of the children’s wishes to be evident of the theme by the second or third chapter and the following chapters were too repetitive. I think the story would have been best served as a short story to present the characters and theme succinctly and would have avoid the tedium of the book. However, I can see why a child would enjoy the repetitive nature of the book. Nesbit cleverly finds new ways to ruin the wishes and that type of suspense appeals greatly to younger readers.

I don’t even know if I would approach this guy…

Another interesting dimension of the theme is that it does not present the idea of “being careful of what to wish for” as well as it could. Throughout the novel, the Psammead grants the wishes of the children. Although he could be interpreted as a microcosm for the larger idea of wishing for unrealistic goals and objects, I think including the character only aids in presenting the theme to children and fails on a thematic level. On a larger level, using the Psammead downplays the theme a bit because the consequences that often stem from the wishes are completely unexpected and random. Although this can play into the idea that wishing for some things yields completely surprising and undesired consequences, I still think the execution of the character’s ability to grant wishes compromises the theme. I do think the character works wonderfully in entertaining and making the idea more accessible for children, which I think is the greatest strength of the work.


Politics in Five Children and It

E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It was probably one of the most frustrating books I have read in class thus far.  I so desperately wanted Robert, Anthea, Cyril, Jane, and Lamb to get what they wanted from Psammead.  However, every wish they wished for went so wrong!  The incompetence of the “fairy” drove me crazy.  It was almost as if Psammead was exploiting the small, innocent children, which would not be too much of a stretch considering Nesbit’s political background as an active socialist.  I believe that the relationship between Psammead and the five children is representative of the type of system that she opposes.  A socialist economy is supposed to directly satisfy the peoples’ economic demands and needs.  Although Psammead was granting the wishes of the children, every wish ended up terribly wrong:  the children wish to be beautiful and they get shut out of their own home, they ask for wings and they get stuck on top of a church, they ask for a castle that becomes mobbed, and they ask to meet real Indians which ended up being a near death experience.  Psammead, who represents the economy, is the incompetent, undesirable system that Nesbit rejects; she advocates for a socialist economy where the people, like the five children, would actually get their needs met.  Also, to add to this discussion about the parallels between Psammead and the five children and politics, the fact that Psammead is not the typical beautiful, idealized fairy contributes to this reading.  Psammead, like the system Nesbit rejects, is ugly, jaded, and not polite.  Perhaps Nesbit is trying to show the ugliness of this particular type of politics as compared to the bright, innocence of the children, who stands for the people of the society who keeps getting exploited and taken advantage of by this ugly system.  Besides this parallel between the characters and the socialist system and the people, Nesbit interjects her own two bits of politics throughout the book as well.  Although Five Children and It was a frustrating read, I liked the fact that Nesbit tried to make the novel as educational as possible, even if she was indirectly, and sometimes directly, pressing upon her socialist views and opinions.


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