What if Wonderland changed for Alice? Wonderfully comedic change of the story!
I thought it was very interesting how the word changed meaning from North America to Europe. If the adults had realized that the word was meant in a way that was not vulgar, would that have had an effect? They could have even explained how the word is different- It’s nothing to get mad about, once it’s explained that in France the word has a different meaning than in Canada, and so, the word can still be used in the context of the book. Skipping over the word because it isn’t an acceptable word denies it the status that it has in another culture.
So, I was reading a post which a fellow blogger wrote about situations that made her feel awkward. She wrote about crying, and being at a loss of what to do. Well, that sparked questions from me, as usual. I can never just leave anything without analyzing it- I call it the “curse of being an English Major.” She listed several options which would be her thought process on what to do if she encountered someone crying.
Why does the act of crying make others uncomfortable? Is it something culturally, where Western Society doesn’t like to see it, and maybe it is accepted elsewhere? Or historically. Of course there’s also that gender stereotype which says that women are emotional while the men aren’t.
There are some people who can’t cry. This can be seen as a burden, and a nuisance to many who rely on tears for catharsis.”Catharsis is generally defined as the purging of emotions or relieving of emotional tensions.” (Bylsma et al., 1165) Emotions should be able to be allowed to be expressed; if they are suppressed it often brings on detachment from emotions. Bud experiences this in Bud Not Buddy, when he explains that if he is sad “My throat gets all choky and my eyes get all sting-y. But the tears coming out doesn’t happen to me anymore. I don’t know when it first happened, but it seems like my eyes don’t cry no more.” (Curtis, 3) He is unable to express how he feels even though he wants to. Once he is able to, he is annoyed because he “couldn’t get that doggone valve closed.” (Curtis, 173)
Emotions have been around forever. So, the need to express these emotions and how to do so have also been discussed over time. “The idea of emotional catharsis dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans over 2000 years ago, as exemplified by a quote from the famous Roman poet Ovid: “It is a relief to weep; grief is satisfied and carried off by tears” (c.f., Frey, 1985). The Greek philosopher Aristotle…wrote that crying “cleanses the mind” of suppressed emotions through a process of catharsis in which distress is reduced through the release of emotions…The idea of emotional catharsis was made popular in more recent times by Freud who considered tears as “involuntary reflexes” that discharge affect so that a “large part of the affect disappears.”…The idea that crying is a specific form of cathartic behavior is widely asserted in contemporary culture.” (Bylsma, et al. 1165-1166) In Anne of Green Gables, Anne is frequently emotional, in her first encounter with Marilla she does not try to hide her feelings but becomes hysterical.”‘You don’t want me!’ she cried. ‘You don’t want me because I’m not a boy! I might have expected it…Oh what shall I do? I’m going to burst into tears!’ Burst into tears she did. Sitting down on a chair by the table, flinging her arms out upon it, and burying her face in them, she proceeded to cry stormily.” (Montgomery, 23-24) The display of emotion is awkward in Western culture when interacting with strangers, and it is uncomfortable to all of those involved. In another instance, even Anne is embarrassed:”‘I’m crying…I can’t think why. I’m as glad as glad can be…I’m so happy…I’ll do my very best. But can you tell me why I’m crying?’ ‘I suppose it’s because you’re all excited and worked up,’ said Marilla disapprovingly. ‘…Try to calm yourself. I’m afraid you both cry and laugh far too easily.'” (Montgomery, 54) Excessive emotional displays are frowned upon by Marilla, even as a way to bring relief.
“In some cultures the expression of intense emotions, such as crying, is disapproved of, or only allowed in very specific and well-defined situations. For example, the Balinese are not allowed to cry during the whole period of mourning after the death of a loved one (Rosenblatt, Walsh, & Jackson, 1976).” (Becht and Vingerhoets, 89) In contrast, Bud is comforted when he cries. “Something whispered to me in a language that I didn’t have any trouble understanding, it said ‘Go ahead and cry, Bud, you’re home.'” (Curtis, 174) He does not wish to cry, however he needs to, in order to release emotions. “I was smiling and laughing and busting my gut so much that I got carried away and some rusty old valve squeaked open in me then…woop, zoop, sloop…tears started jumping out of my eyes so hard that I had to cover my face with the big red and white napkin that was on the table.” (Curtis, 172-173) Once he feels safe with the people he is with, the ability to cry is found. “The cathartic effect is dependent on the extent to which the individual feels secure and safe while re-experiencing the emotional event….Cathartic crying is seen as occurring when an unresolved emotional distress is reawakened in a properly distanced context, in which there is an appropriate balance of distress and security.” (Bylsma et al. 1166-1167)
“In collectivistic societies like Indonesia and Japan (Hofstede, 1980), in which common interests prevail over individual goals, the display of intense emotions is regarded as less appropriate than it is in individualistic cultures (Matsumoto, 1990)…Wealthier countries appear to be more individualistic (Georgas et al., 2000), so national income should also contribute to positive mood change, paralleling the effect of individualism.” (Becht and Vingerhoets, 90). In Anne’s case, she doesn’t have much and is part of the lower class. “I have two [nightgowns]. The matron of the asylum made them for me. They’re fearfully skimpy. There is never enough to go around in an asylum, so things are always skimpy-at least in a poor asylum like ours.” (Montgomery, 27) She has never had a privileged life, and has spent most of her life babysitting younger children- she’s a servant. The one place where she is treated as she should be, the asylum, can only afford to give her the bare minimum. She is not seen as an individual in this setting, but as only one person in a group of several others. Bud Not Buddy is set in the United States during the Great Depression. He is also a foster child. In the room “All the boys’ beds were jim-jammed together.” (Curtis, 3) so he doesn’t have the space required to be set apart from others. “There’s more and more kids coming into the Home every day.” (Curtis, 6)
Although the books are set in Canada and the United States, while they may have been in an individualistic culture which allowed crying, because of their situations in crowded orphanages, they were seen as part of a collective society. In A Little Princess, Sara, as part of a different class, is able to have the freedom that she needs. “She is the strangest child I ever saw. She has actually made no fuss at all… When I told her what had happened, she just stood quite still and looked at me without making a sound… When I had finished, she still stood staring for a few seconds, and then her chin began to shake, and she turned round and ran out of the room and upstairs. Several of the other children began to cry, but she did not seem to hear them or be alive to anything but just what I was saying.” (Burnett, 89). She removes herself from a group, and seeks privacy to be able to react to her emotions in a way which she wishes to without being observed. “Nobody but Sara herself ever knew what had happened in her room after she had run upstairs and locked her door…She walked up and down, saying over and over to herself in a voice which did not seem her own, ‘My papa is dead.’…Once she stopped before Emily, who sat watching her from her chair, and cried out wildly, ‘Emily! Do you hear? Do you hear-papa is dead?'” (Burnett, 89) She cries, but only in private. She has to be seen as “Princess Sara” (Burnett, 75) to the others for as long as she can. This part being played has to be done by acting with little or no emotion. “Her mouth was set as if she did not wish to reveal what she had suffered and was suffering.” (Burnett, 90) She may have lost everything, but she keeps her attitude as a princess. To restrain her emotions gives her power. This is why, when Sara acts as she does, others get annoyed. “If she had cried and sobbed and seemed frightened, Miss. Minchin might almost have had more patience with her.” (Burnett, 91-92) To show her emotions would have been a sign of acceptance at her change in socio-economic status. By keeping control of her feelings publicly, she still has control, even with her newly discovered poverty.
According to what I’ve found out, it actually seems that in Western culture, crying is accepted (and even expected) in certain contexts. Sometimes it is laughed at- and people are thankful when they don’t have to be the listener. (Thus the reason “Reasons my Son is Crying” exists on Tumblr, which I think grossly invalidates him.) Death, a loss, and extreme emotion isn’t supposed to be hidden, but acknowledged. It doesn’t need to be repressed, but there are times when people need to be composed as well. So, why does it create embarrassment for those involved, either watching or crying? I don’t think there should be. There are always two ways to look at everything- and no matter what, everybody is entitled to their own reactions. The emotional reactions people have to events or news is completely justified; and everybody is entitled to express how they feel, whether publicly or privately.
IMAGES (In order of appearance, everything else in alphabetical order)
- Burnett, Frances Hodgson. A Little Princess. Mahwah, NJ: Watermill, 1981. Print.
- Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud Not Buddy. New York: Yearling, 1999
- Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. [Toronto]: Seal, 1996.
- infinitesugar. “Situations That Make Me Awkward” Web log Post. The Life and Times of a Slightly More Talkative Wallflower WordPress, Mar 25 2013. Web. Apr. 8 2013
- Marie, Sarah “Tears… A Gift.” Web log Post. Strange Little Dreams. WordPress. Mar 29 2013. Web. Apr. 12 2013
- Saavedra, Andrea Acevedo. “The Great Depression.” Web log Post. Pretty Little Researchers. WordPress. June 12 2012. Web. Apr. 12 2013
- “Reasons my Son is Crying.” Tumblr. Web. April 12 2013.
- Becht, Marleen C., and Ad J.J.M. Vingerhoets. “Crying And Mood Change: A Cross-Cultural Study.” Cognition & Emotion 16.1 (2002): 87-101. Business Source Complete. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.
- Bylsma, Lauren M., Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets,, and Jonathan Rottenberg. “When Is Crying Cathartic? An International Study.” Journal Of Social & Clinical Psychology 27.10 (2008): 1165-1187. Academic Search Elite. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.
Another look at illustrations in children’s books- this time the placement of the characters- as much as the authors have specific choices to make, so do illustrators- they always want to be saying something- we just need to look deeper to find out what.
- High positioning equates to positive status, favour with other characters or high spirits
- Characters low down in the page are less confident, afraid, glum or looked down upon
- Framed: limited glimpse ‘into’ a world.
- Unframed: view from ‘within’
Poor Peter Rabbit.
By setting the viewpoint low to the ground with restricted vision of Peter’s pursuer, Beatrix potter creates tension for the reader.
The close-up position allows us to feel his fear and desperation. We are not quite under the sieve with Peter, but close enough to see the danger he is in. The movement of the birds shows us the force of the sieve as it is thrust down upon him.
Little Hansel and Gretel are dwarfed by the menacing looking trees in the imposing forest.
The picture is unframed. We…
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Interesting take on how children’s books, although they may be set in a different time; if they were written in this century they may hold modern values which are contradictory to values which were really held in the historical period the characters are placed in.
Reading historical novels is always interesting – diving into a different time period , and finding out all the details of people’s lives, and how they lived, and what they ate, and what they thought (even if they are made up by the author) is so intriguing to me. Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Seeing Stone is a wonderful example of a book set in a different time that is written in such a way that I felt that it could really be true. Set in 1199 on the border of England and Wales, there were so many details that flushed out the medieval world, from the lessons Arthur (the narrator) is taught, to what his family ate for Christmas dinner, to the types of taxes were paid to Arthur’s father, the lord of the manor… Wonderful, luxurious detail. The research the author undertook must have been enormous.
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My earliest memories of being read to as a child concern books about a specific subject. These were the books that my parents picked out to try to make me fall asleep and stay asleep. A relaxing tradition, I’d sit on their lap and they’d read to me. (It didn’t often work. I have been, am, and always will be an insomniac.) When my brother was born a few years later, these books again became a staple to our household. (They worked with him.)
I’m talking about bedtime stories. Bedtime stories influence us even into adulthood. These stories are remembered with fondness. I’ve already spoken about some bedtimes stories such as Goodnight Moon, and analyzed it so today, I’m just going to look at the way that bedtime stories are structured and written. There are several reasons why children are read these books. First of all, there is the idea that routine and structure helps a child. This can certainly be a good thing; they don’t feel anxiety over what their day will be like because they know what will happen, and they know it’s time to sleep after a story is read to them.
Many bedtime stories are simply about the routine of the child in the act of getting ready for bed. “A close look at the way bedtime story routines…taught children how to take meaning from books raises a heavy sense of the familiar in all of us who have required mainstream habits and values.” (Heath, 54) Seeing this recur in several stories shows just how normal bedtime is, not only for children or people, but even for animals, such as in The Napping House. The Napping House by Audrey Wood reminds me of The Mitten, as several animals go to sleep and get into bed. Again there is a mouse, but “on that mouse there is a flea…a wakeful flea on a slumbering mouse, on a snoozing cat, on a dozing dog, on a dreaming child, on a snoring granny, on a cozy bed, in a napping house where everyone is sleeping.” (Wood, 14) In Peter, Good Night there is a flipping of the Goodnight Moon story- as the bunny in Goodnight Moon says goodnight to the objects, the things outside of Peter’s window say goodnight to him. “The treetops swayed in the wind. ‘Good night,’ the trees nodded. ‘May your sleep be gentle.'” (Weir, 8) By ‘nodding’ the trees could also be ‘nodding off to sleep’ and getting rest, or they may be nodding in approval of his going to sleep. In any case, the emphasis on the surroundings outside, the moon, the trees, the birds; all indicate that night is a natural time and a time for sleeping.
Sleeping is a normal activity that everybody has to take part in to take care of themselves. The act of reading is clearly part of the routine, as mentioned in My Goodnight Book where “Daddy reads me a bedtime story. He lets me turn the pages for him.” (Wilkin, 6). The girl in getting ready for bed, is able to get dressed by herself, brush her teeth, and takes part in helping her father read to her, as she turns the pages for him as he reads. It is another step towards independence for her to experience being read to. “We seek what explanations, asking what the topic is, establishing it as predictable, and recognizing it in new situational contexts by classifying it and categorizing it in our mind with other phenomena.” (Heath, 54) Through this story, children can learn what to expect at bedtime, and it becomes predictable as they learn that reading a story is part of the bedtime routine.
The Napping House is repetitive as every page not only goes through the list of animal getting into the bed but ends with the same words “in a napping house where everyone is sleeping.” (Wood.) Those words can be expected, just like the act of going to bed after the story is read. When Mama comes home tonight is also a story with repetition. The first line of the book and the last line of the book are the same: “When Mama comes home from work, dear child when Mama comes home tonight.” (Spinelli, 1) The ending and the beginning have come to a full circle, the conclusion is satisfying, and there are no big surprises. “He already responds to rhyme and rhythm, alliteration and imagery, and through poems about things that fall within his observation, or that appeal to his inherent ideals, mother,…may lay the foundation of literary appreciation that will normally develop through his school…years. (Patricia) These stories are comforting because the use of language, alliteration, repetition and rhythm are already familiar.
These stories in their familiarity with rhythm and routine, help to relieve anxieties, soothe worries about the current day, and help to establish tomorrow as a new day.
- Spinelli, Eileen. When Mama Comes Home Tonight. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 1998.
- Weir, Alison. Peter, Good Night. New York: Dutton, 1989.
- Wilkin, Eloise Burns. My Goodnight Book. New York: Golden, 1981.
- Wood, Audrey. The Napping House. San Diego: Harcourt Brace &, 2000.
- Uricchio, Bill. “Goodnight!” Web log post. BUNELS-Bulletin of the New England Library Scientists. WordPress, 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2013. <http://bunels.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/313/>.
- Writing Canvas. “Daily Prompt: Bedtime Stories~Favourite Childhood Book.” Web log post. Writing Canvas. WordPress, 21 Mar. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2013. <http://writingcanvas.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/daily-prompt-bedtime-stories-favorite-childhood-book/.>
- Heath, Shirley Brice. “What No Bedtime Story Means: Narrative Skills at Home and School.” Language in Society 11.2 (1982): 45-76. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.
- Patricia, Mary Joan, and S.S.J. “‘ In Readings about Children’s Literature.” Readings about Children’s Literature. Ed. Evelyn Rose Robinson. New York, N.Y.: David McKay Company, Inc., 1966. 239-248. Rpt. in Children’s Literature Review. Ed. Tom Burns. Vol. 117. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.
You have heard of Cinderella, Rumplestiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Shoemaker and the Elves, but have you heard about The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage? How about Farmerkin, or Thousandfurs, or Gambling Hans? Or the Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers?
These stories, some well known, some less so, all have something in common – they are all Fairy Tales. I finished George MacDonald’s Fairy Tale The Princess and the Goblin a couple of days ago, and since then have been engrossed in Philip Pullman’s retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Grimm Tales) and now am reading another edition of the Brothers Grimms’ Fairy Tales – an edition that was first published in 1823.
All these different fairy tales has got me wondering – what is a Fairy Tale? We know Fairy Tales can be a bit formulaic – there…
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So, I was reading something of my grandfather’s which at first really offended me. He wrote about deaf children and language. I stumbled across the word “retarded”. I chuckled, tried to move on, but came back to that. I didn’t feel like crying, I was just…stunned. I had to think though: Now, obviously, he didn’t mean to call me retarded. I mean after all, he’d written his theses in 1968. I wasn’t even born yet! However, I did spark a *conversation on Facebook, between myself and three other people, that I’d like to share.
One of the first things asked of course, was what year the publication was printed.”Bearing in mind that a language is always an inheritance from the past, one must add that the social forces in question act over a period of time. If stability is a characteristics of languages, it is not only because languages are anchored in the community. They are also anchored over time.” (Saussure, 108) I told, and then a discussion sparked about the history. “I learned the terms mildly, moderately and severely retarded when I took my education degree in 1982 – the label was related to IQ score” (Muir) It was a completely acceptable word then, what made it unacceptable? The word “retard” was actually used to replace other words which had been considered vulgar. “In my textbook I believe the terms for “mental retardation ” replaced the older labels of imbecile and idiot – if I remember correctly” (Muir). It wasn’t so much the word itself, as what it stood for that was seen as inappropriate. The DSM is responsible for the discovery and recording of psychiatric conditions. The word “retard” has been debated and challenged because it has been seen as a bad word. That got me to thinking of course, not just about the word retard, but every word. “Who gets to decide what terms are offensive to whom? What makes people censor their language? Words such as ass for example, they were common, but now they’re seen as completely different. How do words change from their original meaning to a new one? Who decides what words are appropriate for everyday conversation, and what gives them the authority to do so? ” (Power)
The conversation was, of course, about the usage of the word retard, but it could be for any ‘swearword’ today. “When a term has moved so far beyond its original meaning as to be derogatory….I would think it’s tied to its use becoming very common and loosely used. The common vernacular for gay people, black people, people of non-caucasian ethnicity, etc. has all changed over time.” (Poirier.) As the meaning of a word changes, so does the information regarding the word. “You have to consider the context and how it is used. Avoid thinking that it was used in the same manner as today – at the time, many factors, including scientific views, affected the usage.” (Gallagher) By using the word “retard” in the modern sense, I took offence. However, Karagianis, when he wrote “the theory that deaf children are temporarily conceptually retarded when compared with hearing children” (Karagianis, i) as being the topic of his study, he wasn’t trying to be mean. He was using a word that was accepted. It was not an insult then, and so when reading it, it should not be treated as a modern text in terms of language, but an outdated one. “Bearing in mind that a language is always an inheritance from the past, one must add that the social forces in question act over a period of time. If stability is a characteristics of languages, it is not only because languages are anchored in the community. They are also anchored over time.” (Saussure, 108) When reading anything, the history of the text and the usage of words has to be taken into account.
So, how does that relate to children’s literature? I’m getting to that. “My theory is that a line is drawn when a term migrates from textbook to schoolyard insult.” (Poirier.) Once words are used to hurt people- that word itself, instead of having meaning, is now stripped of the meaning it previously had, and used in derogatory ways. It no longer matters what the word once was, after it is labelled a “swearword” it is only used and thought of as an insult. It is more common in young adult literature. “I copy Gary’s word over and over- fuckfuckfuckfuck. I remember the first time I ever heard this wonderful word. I must have been eight or nine… Gary’s friend Wayne came to the door. Wayne and a boy named Bruce who went to a different school. Gary sounded so proud when he said he couldn’t go to the ravine with them because he was minding me…I wanted to go…Bruce led the way…Behind him Wayne swung his arms to catch his balance. Bruce yelled, ‘Watch where the fuck you go grabbing me, you faggot dick-head.’ ‘Faggot, faggot, faggot,’ I remember whispering into the crook of my elbow. ‘Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.’ I didn’t know what the words meant, but they felt exciting.” (Stinson, 30-31) She knows that it is a new word, and that it’s probably not a good word. It still feels exciting to Ruby because it’s different from anything she’s heard before- and she heard it from her older brother’s friends, the friends of the person she looks up to. “To enter a peer group, children rally what ever resources are at hand to contribute to the elaboration of games. However, also important is the ideological orientation toward the languages in contact, itself constructed by child peers among themselves, through crossing and defining their own speaking styles. The sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropology studies reviewed document that children, from an early age, manipulate a broad range of linguistic features, using them to enact power, establish positive footing with peers, and articulate norms of the peer group. Developmental differences in sophistication of genres (Blum Kulka et al. 2005) and linguistic features used (e.g., younger children rely more on prosody, whereas older children rely on grammatical and lexical forms; Hoyle & Adger 1998a) are evident; however, from an early age, even as young as the preschool period, children show facility in using these features. By understanding how the linguistic forms that children use are suited to the social goals that they are seeking to accomplish in their peer social worlds, we can understand their communicative and social competence.” (Kyratzis, 642) She learns the words and remembers them because they are part of the language which is accepted in her brother’s community of peers. It has no meaning to her however, and the word, with no context except in the form of an insult, is naturally all that she attributes the words to.
Children use language in the same way that adults do. They can exclude or include people. “Adult-based models of socialization view children as passively “reproducing” adult culture. However, according to recent interpretive approaches to the study of children’s socialization, meaning creation and “interpretive reproduction” (Gaskins et al. 1992, p. 7) are active processes by which children, in their negotiations with other children, “take a variety of stances toward cultural resources- acceding to…playfully transforming, actively resisting (Gaskins et al. 1992, p. 11).” Children are not merely unformed adults (Schwartzman 2001); they reformulate social categories (e.g., friendship, gender) appropriated from the adult culture inways that are sensitive to context (Thome 1993, 2001) and reflective of children’s personalities and momentary goals and agendas in the culture of peers, goals often related to entry into, and achieving power within, peer groups (Corsaro 1985,1997; Goodwin 2001; Hirschfeld 2002;Paley 1992; Thome 2001).” (Kyratzis, 626) Children use language to structure the community. The language has changed, and the context of the words have changed because they need access to language to create relationships and structure their community. “People use their language without conscious reflection, unaware of the laws which govern it.” (Saussure, 106-107) Insults are a way to create relationships-when really thought about, we use insults to show others when we’re angry or sad; or annoyed. With the change of the meaning though, some words have lost their original meaning, and are reduced to just being words which are insults and nothing else. If a word is only a bad word, and ceases to have meaning, it may be used commonly, but only to express anger, frustration, overwhelming emotion, and seen as unsuitable for normal conversation.
It also needs to be said that everybody has power over what words they choose to use and what meaning they have. “A language belongs to all of its users. It is something all make use of every day. A language is something in which everybody participates all the time, and that is why it is constantly open to the influence of all.” (Saussure, 108) As long as enough people use a term- whether it is considered rude or not- the term will still connect to the meaning it holds for the majority of people at the moment, until time when the meaning gradually shifts again. As people use the words, they can assign their own meaning to it. “There is a connexion between these two opposing factors: the arbitrary convention which allows free choice, and the passage of time, which fixes that choice. It is because the linguistic sign is arbitrary that it knows no other law than that of tradition, and because it is founded on tradition that it can be arbitrary.” (Saussure, 108) If a word is given a meaning, and the meaning is applied to the word for a long enough time and used by a community of people, the meaning and the word will be connected. Society and history can change a word from a general regarded word used in a thesis into a word that shouldn’t be said- meant as an insult. Are there then, really any “bad” words, or are they all just simply words that have become misused in culturally and historically? I’d like to think it’s the latter. Words have power- they should be used to help, and I’d like to think that any word originally was meant to help, not hurt.
IMAGES: (In order of appearance. Everything else in alphabetical order.)
- English: “Retarded Children Can Be Helped” United States Postage Stamp, first issued on October 12th, 1974 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
- Karagianis, Leslie D. Language as a Mediational Variable in Hearing and Deaf Children. [Toronto]: n.p., 1968. Print.
- Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1986. “Excerpts from Course in General Linguistics” in Course in General Linguistics, edited by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, pp. 8-15, 65-78. 1986. Lasalle
- Stinson, Kathy. Becoming Ruby. Toronto: Penguin. 2003. Print.
- Daiment, Michelle. “DSM Committee Takes Heat Over ‘Mental Retardation’ Update.” DSM Committee Takes Heat Over ‘Mental Retardation’ Update. Disabilityscoop, 29 May 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2013.
- happyambergilmore. “A Word Gone Wrong”. Web log post. CSU CO301D WordPress, 7 March 2013, Web. April 1 2013
- Nolan, Megan. “Let’s All Be Epic Bitches and Cunts.” Weblog post. Badger Thoughts. WordPress, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. .
- Robshaw, Brandon. “Frustrating.” Web Log Post Brandon Robshaw and the English Language. WordPress April 6 2013, Web. April 6 2013.
- Unknown “Are you Retarded?” The use of Clinical Jargon in Slang.” Weblog Post. Inside Out WordPress. 7 April 2013. Web. 23 April 2013.
- Kyratzis, Amy. “Talk and Interaction Among Children and the Co-construction of Peer Groups and Peer Culture.” Annual Review of Anthropology 33 (2004): 625-49.JSTOR. Web. 29 Mar. 2013.
- Muir S, L Poirier, S Gallagher, and J Power. “Never thought I’d see the word “retarded” in a university paper-in a theses- In my Granddad’s vocabulary. Must find out more about the usage of this word….” 26 Mar 2013. N.p., Online Posting to Facebook. Web. 28 Mar. 2013.
*Permission was obtained through Facebook before quoting the people in the conversation. Last names have been used, first initials have been used to protect any privacy concerns they may have.)
First of all, I’d like to make a dedication. To Leslie Karagianis-the guy responsible for most of the research component of this post. I wish I’d heard this from you and not Google.
A word of caution. I am going to be talking about child abuse. I will be analyzing children’s books and explaining how these stories can help children deal with child abuse and others’ reactions to it. This post may offend some readers and/or contain ideas about sensitive subjects. If you start to feel uncomfortable, please get off and go read something else.
Most children read for enjoyment, or because they have to read for school. Some read however, because they need to escape. Some read because they need to find solace in something; something that reminds them that they are not alone. My grandfather wrote about child abuse concerning disabled children, and I think I’d like to connect what he found with my own studies. This may be in two or maybe even three parts, because it is a very dense subject.
“There are two kinds of pain that the human can endure. Physical pain, and emotional pain. Our society has traditionally tolerated pain of both varieties. During the last few years there’s been a lot being directed towards the physical abuse of children. Possibly because it’s more dramatic, possibly because it’s more tangible. Possibly because it’s easier to make society more aware of it.” (Nesbit) Abuse can come in many forms: physical, emotional, sexual, it can be in terms of neglect, where the child is simply expected to look after themselves or is not acknowledged by the adult at all. Emotional abuse is perhaps the most insidious and is described as “the mutilation of a child’s spirit.” (Nesbit) It lowers self esteem, can be easier for the child to dismiss, and it can be hard to detect. Psychological abuse “has epitomized the kind of thinking our society has been immersed in over the last couple of centuries. The idea that the child doesn’t have rights. The child is a shadow of it’s parents.” (Nesbit.) It has history: the cult of the child and Puritan values of child rearing are still present today as well. Particularly in terms of abuse. I’ve talked about bullying: I believe that is a form of abuse which children subject on each other. People do get hurt from this form of abuse. In some respects, this is another expression of contact zones. The parent is at the apex and the child is relegated to the margins or abjected.
In terms of who is most likely to be abused: one theory is that those with disabilities are more likely to be hurt. Using the concept of the circle again, it makes sense: the able-bodied are at the apex and the disabled are forced out of the margins of society. “Today one of the most frequently asked questions concerning child abuse and the handicapped child is whether or not the handicapped child is predisposed to abuse. When one considers the relationship between disabilities or handicapped parent and child abuse there are two possible explanations. First of all that the disabilities or disabilities in children can produce stress in parents. This stress makes it very difficult for the parents to cope with the child and therefore they abuse that child. The other explanation is that the handicapping the victim results from child abuse rather than before which could be attributed to the abuse. Although the role of handicapping conditions changes is very difficult to assess in child abuse there does appear to be a relationship between the two…The child who is abused tends to be overactive or else present some problem to the parent in regards to physical abuse. A number of characteristics make children vulnerable to abuse. They cited mental retardation, physical handicaps, poor health, and in fact anything that is perceived about the child by the parent to be different. According to Helfer’s model of child abuse three conditions are required for abuse to occur. First of all a child, a very special kind of child: an exceptional child is of course a special child. A crisis or series of crisis and the third characteristic is the potential for abuse within the parent. Helfer also points out that the child must be perceived by the parent to be special or actually be special or someone who is different from other children.” (Karagianis.) Adults have to find something which makes the child deserving of being left on the margins. They are dehumanized- because it is easier to abuse an “it” than a “her” or a “him”-something with a name. As a result, emotional abuse strips away a child’s being. They may never be referred to by their name, and referred to as a thing- a child, an idiot, etc. etc. It is the parent who has the potential to abuse, not the child who has the potential to be abused.
Matilda is seen by her parents as “nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away. Mr and Mrs Wormwood looked forward enormously to the time when they could pick their little daughter off and flick her away, preferably into the next county or even further than that.” (Matilda, Dahl, 10) She is different from the others in her family, and it is seen as a good thing by the narrator. “It is bad enough when parents treat ordinary children as though they were scabs and bunions, but it becomes somehow a lot worse when the child in question is extraordinary, and by that I mean sensitive and brilliant. Matilda was both of these things… Her mind was so nimble and she was so quick to learn that her ability should have been obvious even to the most half-witted of parents. But Mr and Mrs Wormwood were both so gormless and so wrapped up in their own silly lives that they failed to notice anything unusual about their daughter. To tell the truth, I doubt they would have noticed had she crawled into the house with a broken leg.” (Matilda, Dahl, 10) They neglect her and her intelligence sets her apart from her brother. What would be seen as a gift to most people is a burden to the Wormwoods. “By the age of one and a half her speech was perfect and she knew as many words as most grown ups. The parents, instead of applauding her, called her a noisy chatterbox and told her sharply that small girls should be seen and not heard.” (Matilda, Dahl, 11). She enjoys reading, and her parents are more concerned about television. Her father asks her “‘What’s wrong with watching the telly, may I ask?’… His voice had suddenly become soft and dangerous. Matilda didn’t trust herself to answer him, so she kept quiet” (Matilda, Dahl, 28). The difference in their interests makes Matilda an outsider in her family. While she strives for knowledge, her parents seek to limit it. Matilda’s father goes so far as to ruin a book she has. “With frightening suddenness he now began ripping the pages out of the book in handfuls and throwing them in the waste-paper basket. Matilda froze in horror. The father kept going. There seemed little doubt that the man felt some kind of jealousy. How dare she, he seemed to be saying with each rip of a page, how dare she enjoy reading books when he couldn’t? How dare she?” (Matilda, Dahl, 41) It is not that he dislikes her exactly, but he resents the fact that she has been able to learn when he can’t. Her parents have to despise her to dismiss the fact that they can not do what she does. They dislike her because she has qualities that they do not possess.
At school, things aren’t much better for Matilda. The first description of somebody at the school is of the headmistress. “Miss. Trunchbull, the Headmistress…was a gigantic holy terror, a fierce tyrannical monster who frightened the life out of pupils and teachers alike. There was an aura of menace about her even at a distance, and when she came up close you could almost feel the dangerous heat radiating from her as from a red-hot rod of metal…if a group of children happened to be in her path, she ploughed right on through them like a tank, with small people bouncing off her left and right. Thank goodness we don’t meet many people like her in this world, although they do exist and all of us are likely to come across at least one of them in a lifetime.” (Matilda, Dahl, 67) Miss Trunchbull scares everybody- not just children, but adults as well. This intimidation is a thing which she enjoys. There are benefits to being able to scare the children. During disagreements, the person she is talking to often feels very small, and they don’t try to discuss things with her because they are too scared. “Miss Honey stood there helpless before this great red-necked giant. There was a lot more she would like to have said, but she knew it was useless.” (Matilda, Dahl, 89). She is speechless. Nobody is allowed to say anything unless it follows Miss Trunchbull’s ideas about the school, and nobody would try to because they are too scared. “[Miss Trunchbull] hardly ever spoke in a normal voice. She either barked or shouted.” (Matilda, Dahl, 85) She shouts to seem intimidating, and once she has that power that she wants, she continues to use her power to keep her position. It is noted that “How she ever got her present job was a mystery.” (Matilda, Dahl, 82) and so to keep people from questioning, she uses fear. It works like an open secret- she doesn’t have the qualifications to do the job, but nobody will say anything out loud because they are too scared.
Anybody can be emotionally abusive. A friend, a parent, a co worker, a sibling, a teacher, and anybody can be emotionally abused. In the school system, “The child may be abused emotionally by the teacher who does not have the resources to deal with exceptional children. In cases like this it is our belief that the child may be abused. The child may be abused emotionally by teachers who do not have the resources to cope with the child in the classroom.” (Nesbit) Teachers, just like parents can be stressed by a child’s disability and not know how to handle it. As said before, the stress can help rationalize the abuse from an adult’s point of view. “All teachers do not have the capabilities or the resources to deal with exceptional children. We have to be aware of the fact that in a general context; in choosing teachers and paying teachers we must have teachers who are sensitive, teachers who are patient, teachers who are going to interact with children.” (Nesbit) The school and the home are separate. What happens at school is often not heard about by parents, and what happens at home is not heard about by teachers. The public sphere and the private sphere also come into this then. The home is the private sphere- the domestic sphere. The school is the public sphere, meant for the purpose of an education. There is no overlap. (Just think of how many times your parents asked you “How was school today?” and you replied “It was good.”, then they asked “What did you do today at school?” and you said “Nothing” and quickly fled from the view of your parents.)
In James and the Giant Peach, I have already suggested that James’ aunts threaten him and strip him of his identity. He is isolated at his aunt’s house as well, “No other children were ever invited to come up the hill and play with Poor James. There wasn’t so much as a dog or a cat around to keep him company.” (James and the Giant Peach, Dahl, 5) They keep him dependant on them, and without companions, he is completely alone. They are able to do this because he has nobody else to turn to. Similarly in Bud Not Buddy, Mrs. Amos’ “ears…were set not to believe anything I said.” (Curtis, 17). Bud is a foster child, and the Amoses have judgements of him before they even know him. “I am not the least bit surprised at your show of ingratitude. Lord knows I have been stung…before. But take a good look at me because I am one person who is totally fed up with you and your ilk. I do not have time to put up with the foolishness of those …who do not want to be uplifted. In the morning I’ll be getting in touch with the Home and, much as a bad penny, you shall be returning to them. I am a woman of my word, though, and you shall not spend one night in my house…Mr. Amos will show you to the shed tonight and you can come back in tomorrow for breakfast before you go. I do hope your conscience plagues you because you have ruined things for many others. I do not know if I shall ever be able to help another child in need. I do know I shall not allow vermin to attack my poor baby in his own house.” (Curtis, 14-15). Bud is judged because he is a foster child. He is unable to defend himself against Mrs. Amos’ words because she would not believe him anyway. His voice has been lost. He is not really a part of the family, but someone who is an income to their household. They are “being paid to take care of me.” (Curtis, 13) and he is not seen as human. He is called ‘vermin’. In Anne of Green Gables, Anne is also not cared for until she meets the Cuthberts. She has been an unpaid babysitter and when asked if her previous families were good, she says “They meant to be-I know they meant to be as good and kind as possible. And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they’re not quite-always. They had a good deal to worry them, you know.” (Montgomery, 41). She censors the way she talks about her last families, and gives excuses for them- they had several kids they had to put first, the husband was a drunk; but there is more to the story than what she tells. She is a daydreamer, and it is easy to believe that her imagination probably made up for rough times at the Hammond’s and the Thomas’.
In Hold Fast the emotional abuse by the main character’s uncle is used to keep control of his family. “Once he got himself into the right gear, it all boiled down to this. The way he wanted things in the house was the way they had to be done. That was it. No questions asked unless you wanted a bloody big fight on your hands. It was up to him when we had supper, who done the dishes. He decided what channel was on the color T.V, what time everybody was expected to be in bed, what time everyone was awake in the morning. Cripes, it got so after a while I didn’t know whether or not I should try going to the bathroom to take a leak without first getting his okay.” (Major, 63) Although the narrator tries to make light of the situation, he is intimidated by the atmosphere as well. “The way the old man went about things rubbed off on everybody else in the house. They all walked around looking like they was so bloody miserable most of the time. If they smiled, all their faces probably would a cracked in two pieces.” (Major, 66) His actions make the others worried. They can not act the way they wish to and feel scared when Ted is in the house. The house seems more like a museum than a home. The main character is able to offer a contrast between Ted’s behaviour and his own father’s behaviour concerning the way he acts. “The swear words, when he spitted them out of him, was almost enough to curl up my guts. Not the words, that was nothing. I was used to that. But the way he said them. People swears in different ways. Dad use to swear and he hardly had a clue he was saying it. But the way the same words came out of Uncle Ted, it was like a set of teeth tearing into her.” (Major, 62). The words are hurtful, they are constant, and he knows that they are like a wound. Ted swears to hurt others, he doesn’t do it just for the sake of using words.
“Terms such as “best interests of the child” and the child’s “emotional needs” are vaguely defined, leaving judges to consider subjectively facts presented. In Ontario, in order to prosecute, a child must be an “endangered child,” and the court must prove actual serious harm or imminent risk of such harm. The abuse must be “frontal and eviscerating” to be considered a matter for the court (Lewis, 1982). Clearly, the Canadian legal system does not hold great promise in the short term. The problem of definition is long standing. Perhaps the following captures the essentials: psychological abuse is the denial of essential psychological nutrients or the denegration of personal worth through domination techniques and patterns of interaction which are damaging to the emerging personality. Behaviours which align with the definition can be specified. Most individual acts or remarks can be evaluated as abusive or nonabusive, but it is not an easy delineation. Both intent and interpretation play major roles in both the sender’s and receiver’s perception of what is abusive.” (Karagianis) I’d like to think that because this is an article from 1987, that we’ve gotten a bit farther than Karagianis stated in the last twenty five years. However, we are still often at a loss of what abuse is. The language describing abuse is often vague. At what point is there a shift made from having an adult having a bad day to emotional abuse? This is actually where binary opposition would be a good thing. Everybody is different, so how much one can take also differs from person to person.
IMAGES (In order of appearance, everything else in alphabetical order.)
- Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud Not Buddy. New York: Yearling, 1999
- Dahl, Roald. James and the Giant Peach. New York: Puffin, 2007.
- Dahl, Roald. Matilda New York: Scholastic, 1996
- Major, Kevin. Hold Fast. Toronto: Groundwood Books. 2003
- Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. [Toronto]: Seal, 1996.
- Karagianis, Leslie D., and Wayne C. Nesbit. “Education 3460. Problems and Issues in Special Education. No 26. Psychological Abuse of Children.” Memorial University DAI: Kindergym. Memorial University of Newfoundland, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.
- Karagianis, L. D. & Nesbit, W.C (1987). Psychological abuse in the home and in the school. Canadian Journal of Education,12(1), 177-183. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1494999
First of all, I have my mother to thank for this post. Second of all, this post is about illness in children’s literature. My mom has a fever. She’ll recover. Wow, it feels awful to be saying thank you to her when she feels so bad. Well, it’s inspired me, what else can I say?
Everybody gets sick. It’s a sign that the body is not indestructible. Sometimes being sick can be as minor as having a cold, or it could be as serious as being in a coma. In children’s stories, there are several instances where people are sick, however there is always a comforting message and a peaceful resolution in the end: You will get better, or suffering no longer has to happen.
Children are exposed to sickness, and they do get sick, just like adults. They have lowered immune systems and while being sick is no fun; they need care and understanding that everything will be okay, even if they don’t feel great at the moment. “Miss Polly had a dolly” is a song about a doll who is sick. The doctor comes, and tells Miss Polly what to do to take care of it. Books about children being sick can help children understand a lot- once they understand why they get sick, it is a less frightening ordeal to go through.
The story of Madeline deals with being in the hospital. Madeline has to get her appendix taken out. She spends the night in the hospital, which is shown as an amusing place. “On her bed there was a crank, and a crack on the ceiling had the habit of sometimes looking like a rabbit.” (Bemelmans,) It is also seen as a fun experience as she receives visitors and they see what she has. “VISITORS FROM TWO TO FOUR read a sign outside her door. Tiptoeing with solemn face, with some flowers and a vase, in they walked and then said “Ahhh,” when they saw the toys and candy and the dollhouse from Papa. But the biggest surprise by far – on her stomach was a scar!” (Bemelmans,) It is a positive experience, up to the point where the other girls “want [their] appendix out too!” (Bemelmans, )
More common are books about children watching someone else who is sick. In the Magician’s Nephew, Digory defends himself when he is accused of ‘blubbering’, saying that others would cry too “if your mother was ill and was going to…die.” (Lewis, 10) It is acceptable to cry and to be worried and/or scared about the health of someone else. It is a normal reaction. The Magician’s nephew alludes to the story of Genesis in the Bible. Digory is tempted by the witch to give the apple to his mother as she says “One bite of that apple would heal her…Go back to your own world. A minute later you can be at your Mother’s bedside, giving her the fruit. Five minutes later you will see the colour coming back to her face. She will tell you the pain is gone. Soon she will tell you she feels stronger…Next day everyone will be saying how wonderfully she has recovered. Soon she will be quite well again. All will be well again.” (Lewis, 150) The Witch represents the Serpent, and the apple is forbidden. Digory can not save his mother; as he is told by Aslan that the apple “would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.” (Lewis, 163). If he had listened to the witch, his mother’s life would be worse. He has to accept that he is not able to heal his mother, it is up to fate to heal her. He is allowed to save her with the permission of Aslan “What I give you now will bring joy. It will not, in your world, give endless life but it will heal. Go. Pluck her an apple from the tree.'” (Lewis, 163) Aslan tells him that she will eventually die, as everyone has to, but she will get better from the illness she is suffering from at the moment. “There she lay, as he had seen her lie so many other times, propped up on the pillows, with a thin, pale face that would make you cry to look at it. Digory took the Apple of Life out of his pocket.” (Lewis, 166) The Apple is magical. It has power- but it only has power because Aslan has allowed Digory to take it. “The brightness of the apple threw strange lights on the ceiling. Nothing else was worth looking at: indeed you couldn’t look at anything else. And the smell of the Apple of Youth was as if there was a window in the room that opened on Heaven…He peeled it and cut it up and gave it to her piece by piece.” (Lewis, 167) The apple works, as “About a week after this it was quite certain that Digory’s mother was getting better…a month later the whole house had become a different place.” (Lewis, 169) and the doctor says that “It is like a miracle.” (Lewis, 168) Aslan has the power to make Digory’s mother stronger; Digory is able to help his mother though by delivering the apple. He has no control over her illness. He needs help from others to make his mother better.
Other times, the characters in children’s books can heal others. In Anne of Green Gables Anne helps her friend’s little sister. The adults are not at home, so they have to rely on Anne to help. “Minnie May, aged three, was really very sick. She lay on the kitchen sofa, feverish and restless, while her hoarse breathing could be heard all over the house. Young Mary Joe, a buxom, broad-faced French girl from the Creek, whom Mrs. Barry had engaged to stay with the children during her absence, was helpless and bewildered, quite incapable of thinking what to do, or doing it if she thought of it.” (Montgomery, 142) Anne has to take control, because the person who is supposed to be taking care of Minnie May and Diana doesn’t know what to do. Anne has experience looking after sick children, and nurses Minnie May back to health.”Minnie May did not take kindly to the ipecac, but Anne had not brought up three pairs of twins for nothing. Down the ipecac went, not only once, but many times during that long, anxious night when two little girls worked patiently over the suffering Minnie May, and Young Mary Joe, honestly anxious to do all she could, kept on a roaring fire and heated more water than would have been needed for a hospital of croupy babies.” (Montgomery, 143) She takes control, while Mary Joe, stays in the background. She tries to be helpful, but Anne is the only one who can look after Minnie in this situation. As a child, she has more knowledge and experience than an adult, and she is able to do the work, even when “Matthew came with the doctor…the pressing need for assistance was past. Minnie May was much better and was sleeping soundly.” (Montgomery, 143) She has experience and is able to use the experience she has to help Diana. Without Anne there, Minnie May would have died, as the doctor tells the Barry’s later. Even though she is a child, she was able to help when an adult was in a crisis.
Introducing sickness in children’s books can empower children. Once they realize that they can help to make someone sick feel comfortable, or that they may feel better soon if they are sick themselves, it is seen as just a part of life. Everybody gets sick, including children, but there are ways that they can get better, by going to the doctor, by taking care of themselves, and by trusting others who care about them to help them feel better.
(In the process of writing this post my mother recovered. I, however, have been suffering with a hacking cough. Just woke up and it was there. Throat hurts. Rather unfortunate-Well, at least I can follow my own advice and remind myself it will be over soon!)
IMAGES (In order of appearance. Everything else in alphabetical order.)
- Bemelmans, Ludwig. Madeline. [New York]: Puffin, 1977. Print.
- Lewis C.S The Magician’s Nephew Canada: Fontana Lions, 1980
- Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. [Toronto]: Seal, 1996.
- Miss Polly Had a Dolly-Wiggles (Nursery Rhymes). Prod. Kids365tv. Perf. The Wiggles.YouTube. YouTube, 18 May 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AG3EaIeU62Y>.
- Donada, Ryan K. “Genesis and The Magician’s Nephew.” Web log post. The Meta-Kafkasis. WordPress, 7 May 2012. Web. 17 Mar. 2013. <http://metakafkasis.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/genesis-and-the-magicians-nephew/>.