Sunday, October 7, 2012

Similarities in 20th Century Literature (Week 4)

Admittedly, Kim by Rudyard Kipling was much different from our earlier readings (fairy tales, script-like pieces, etc.), but not very surprising in general for the time period. This was the time of Peter Pan, Wizard of Oz and Anne of Green Gables. In fact, I spent the whole time reading it comparing it to other pieces of the time.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett was one of the books. While this book was written a few years after Kim, they still have a quite a few similarities/parallels. While Kim is about an orphaned boy who is forced into a world of English lifestyle that he does not want (he would rather stay with the Tibetan Lama), A Little Princess is about a little English girl who goes to a bordering school while her father is a soldier, but when he dies the little girl is forced into being a house servant. Both are brought back to their original worlds by the end of the books, each having learned something different. The format is very much the similar. I’m sure I would find more similarities if I read them side by side.

There’s another similarity between books of the time that I pointed out at a very young age after my mother had read me a series of books (A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, and A Secret Garden):

“Does every book have mommies dying?”

And really they do: Kim, A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, A Secret Garden, Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, etc. In each of these books, one or both parents have died leaving the children to deal with the deaths and the circumstances that follow in different  fashions. It is an interesting notion that might a variety of reasons behind them. It gives the main characters something that needs to be worked through emotionally, it gives reason to a change in circumstances, etc. 

Has any one else noticed this with reading from that era?

(While normally I add links, this time I was running a little short on time and did not. I'll place a book list later this week for those interested in these pieces. )


  1. Not only are there no mommies in a lot of literature of the time, it's something that persisted at least into the '90s Disney renaissance. Sure, Disney skated over the fact that mothers were dying left and right, but in Beauty and the Beast, Belle had a father but no mother. Same with Aladdin - if you stuck it out for the two sequels (which I'm retrospectively embarrassed to admit having seen, as I recognized they were terrible from about the age of ten, but hey, they were Aladdin-related, I was about it at the time), you'd meet Aladdin's father... but not his mother. The Little Mermaid? King Triton's hanging out, sure, but what about Queen Larissa? My guess is that, consciously or subconsciously, this might've been some attempt to get kids to realize that life could be hard early on, but to ease them into it - both in terms with Kim's contemporary work, and the children's entertainment of my childhood.

  2. Interesting parallel to the "little Princess", I loved that book growing up! They do share many parallels, two intelligent protagonist raised in the exotic imaginative culture of India, only to be later brought back into the culture of their heritage.

    As for your second point, that does to be a common theme in popular children's literature and Disney. I wonder if its to evoke more sympathy from the audience and to justify the "happy ending" they experience at the end. Its funny because I don't think I realized this trend until this class.

  3. We did discuss this in class somewhat (I think you were absent). It's a common theme in 20th Century Children's Lit as well. If parents aren't dead, they're absent, either physically or psychologically. It's a common technique in setting a stage that allows a child more freedom and self-reliance than they normally would have. Here's a good blog post on the topic:

  4. Why Mommies Have to Die

    I agree with Professor Maruca's answer that it "allows a child more freedom and self-reliance than they normally would have." Had the mother, the caregiver and parent most responsible for the upbringing and shaping of a child's psychological and emotional development, been present during the child's life and the crucial, early stages then there would be no a different kind of maturing growth happening within the child. S/he would most likely be sheltered and comforted from the wickedness and harsh realities of the world. The literary child in these stories need be an orphan to experience the world without censor and the filtering tactic the mother would provide. The child needs an unobstructed view of the world to grow up faster than they otherwise would so that they may deal with whatever the plot inevitably has in store for him/her.