28. Symbols in Children`s Lit

Report
Symbols and Archetypes
in Children’s Literature
by Alleen Nilsen
and Don Nilsen
Children’s literature is a good place to look for
symbols and archetypes that are important to a
culture because:
1.
People who create stories and art for children use simple
concepts so children will understand them.
2.
They rely on common objects, including animals, that fascinate
children.
3.
Especially in old folktales and rhymes, the “wisdom” of the ages
has been collected, condensed, and polished for a new
generation.
4.
The “classics” of children’s literature are shared by parents,
teachers, and various media so nearly all children are “taught”
the symbols of their culture.
American advertisers, broadcasters, cartoonists,
politicians and bloggers rely on these exaggerated
characters to make their points:
•
•
•
•
CHICKEN LITTLE to represent alarmists.
PINOCCHIO to stand in for liars.
THE BIG BAD WOLF to warn us of danger.
HUMPTY DUMPTY to point out how easy it is
to fall from grace.
• THE FROG PRINCE to give hope to
discouraged women of all ages.
If they are apt enough, even modern stories
work their way into pop cultural symbolism.
• The title of Judith Viorst’s popular 1972 book,
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very
Bad Day, not only scans well but fits with our
national mood so that in the early decade after
9/11, a curious journalist found it used as a
metaphor in over 50 prominent news stories.
• When he interviewed Viorst about it, she modestly
said it was simply because the children who grew
up with the book, were now running the U. S. news
media.
Here Is A Parade of Animal Sayings from a 1969 New
Yorker cartoon by Lee Lorenz
• LORD LOVE A DUCK
• A BEAR FOR PUNISHMENT
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
I’LL BE A MONKEY’S UNCLE
IN A PIG’S EYE
THE CAT’S PAJAMAS
SEE YOU LATER, ALLIGATOR
IT’S A DOG’S LIFE
DRUNK AS A SKUNK
YOU CAN LEAD A HORSE TO
WATER, BUT YOU CAN’T
MAKE HIM DRINK
• SNUG AS A BUG IN A RUG
Many symbols don’t match real life as in this
Hershey “Care Bear” delivering a candy kiss.
OTHER IMAGINARY BEARS
IN CHILDREN’S LIVES:
• Teddy bears
• Goldilocks and the Three
Bears
• Getting “a Bear Hug.”
• Some children even think
that going “Bare Naked”
is dressing like a bear.
CURIOUS GEORGE is a lovable monkey
portrayed in H. A. Rey’s picture books
• Because of him,
children know what the
teacher means when
she says,
• “No monkey business
now!” or “Stop
monkeying around!”
• He also inspires them
as they play on their
school’s monkey bars.
There’s something cheerful about a smiling Humpty
Dumpty sitting on a wall, but still he portends disaster.
• We are affected because
our emotions are stretched
in both directions.
• In cartoons, after his fall,
there is usually a
sympathetic crowd trying
to put him back together.
• But a surprising cartoon in
2009 showed him being
shunned by a donkey and
two wizard-like characters
shouting “Salmonella!”
This New Yorker cartoon is more typical.
• It is hinting to a Wall Street
banker that there’s going to
be a stock market crash.
• The “Humpty Dumpty”
nursery rhyme is so famous
that even without the
image, the phrase “And all
the King’s men…” is enough
to deliver a warning. Our
ASU library has over 100
items with these words in
the title.
Personified animals (sometimes called “people in fur”) are
popular because children can identify with them regardless
of race and sometimes gender.
• Arnold Lobel’s Frog and
Toad stories are about
two friends relating
across ethnic lines.
• The two species have
different reputations;
e.g., if a frog is kissed,
he turns into a prince.
• But if a toad is kissed,
the kisser is predicted
to get warts.
Even letters of the alphabet take on symbolic meanings as
when people talk about learning the ABC’s as seen in this
Steve Benson cartoon about Arizona’s school Supt.
Even letters of the alphabet can take on extra
meanings as in this folk song.
• A currently popular TV
commercial for Geico
shows an old farmer in a
spelling bee.
• He is supposed to spell
COW.
• He almost gets it right,
but then is expelled
when he confidently
adds “E-I-E-I-O.”
Dorothy and her friends from The Wizard of Oz are
popular cartoon characters as shown in this 2014
Steve Benson cartoon in the Arizona Republic.
Over the years, the same characters are alluded to
with totally different messages.
• In the 1980s, AZ Public Service used Dorothy
and her friends dancing up the yellow brick
road with the message, “We’re on our way to
more efficient fuel alternatives.”
• In a recent cartoon, The Wicked Witch is
saying “Forget the slippers. I want the Tin
Man’s oil.”
• In another cartoon, Dorothy and friends have
sold the Tin Man to a recycling center in
exchange for bus fare back to Kansas.
“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children
She didn’t know what to do.”
• Actually, we all live in our
shoes, but just not as
interpreted in the old
nursery rhyme.
• In the 1980s, she was
featured in a cheerful
advertising campaign for
Hawaiian punch, which
was such a bargain she
could afford it for her
whole family.
But cartoons in 2012 had different messages fitting
with changes in the real estate market.
• One drawing showed
the shoe all boarded up
with a “FORECLOSURE”
sign on it.
• In another one, a real
estate broker is
standing in front of the
shoe and saying “It
looked kinda dumpty,
but appraised at a
million-two.”
Hansel and Gretel are the ultimate example of
unfortunate orphans.
• In one cartoon, Gretel solemnly quizzes the Witch on
the nutritional value of the food in her enticing house.
• Another shows an ornate drawing of the house with a
sign reading “THIS STRUCTURE WILL BE TORN DOWN
AND REPLACED BY A NEW 44-STORY COOKIE.”
• A fairly recent advertising campaign on television
related to financial security showed Hansel and Gretel
fearfully wandering into Wall Street and dropping bread
crumbs along the way in hopes of finding their way out.
Peter Pan is a character in Sir James Barrie’s
play Peter Pan.
• He lives without
growing older in a
never-never land.
• His name is now in
dictionaries to refer to
an adult who does not
want to grow up, or
who hangs on to
adolescent interests
and attitudes.
Superman is such a popular comic
book figure that he regularly finds his
way into adult cartoons.
For example, in this 1989
New Yorker cartoon by
Charles Barsotti, the wife
is saying “Well, your
jersey damn sure wasn’t
inside out when you left
home this morning.”
And in this one, a boss is surprised when he steps
into an office and sees one of his executives
pulling on his Superman tights.
Children enjoy their own kinds of
suggestive allusions.
• When author Dav Pilkey
spoke with children, he
noticed that they all
laughed if he said the
word “underpants.
• This inspired him to
devise his Captain
Underpants books.
• Children love them, but
some parents object to
their “lack of respect.”
They get the same kind of conspiratorial smiles if they
run across nudity in a children’s picture book.
The most popular example is
“The Emperor’s New Clothes,”
but the Cornish tale “Duffy
and the Devil,” by Harve and
Margo Zemach is equally
appealing.
It is a “Rumplestilskin” story
in which everything the
princess has woven turns to
ashes when she refuses to
give her baby to the “helpful”
little elf.
Most playful allusions to children’s literature
are created for the enjoyment of adults.
However in 1992 Jon
Scieszka and Lane Smith
succeeded in going
directly to children with
such funny parodies as
“Goldilocks and the Three
Elephants,” “Little Red
Running Shorts,” and
“The Stinky Cheese Man.”

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