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Assignment 2

An Essay on Violence in Children’s
Literature by James Highley.

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‘For every act of violence that befalls heroes
and heroines of fairy tales it is easy enough to establish a cause by pointing
to behavioural flaws’ (Mary Tatar, The Classic Fairy Tales)


In this essay, I
am going to explore the presence of violence in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland (will be
referred to in its more commonly known title Alice in Wonderland through the
rest of the essay) in (1865), and Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio (1883) I will
look at what violence brings and how it can effect a story, and also how violence
in children’s literature possibly effects the reader of the story itself.


Whilst the
memory of my first introduction to children’s literature came in the form of The Very Hungry Caterpillar1,
one of my earliest exposures to this kind of writing was through later
versions of Pinocchio. As a child, I
took from the moral of the story to not waste what I have, be grateful for
having good things, and to share. As I have gotten older and subsequently
discovered the original versions of stories like Pinocchio, I can honestly say
I was shocked to see the level of violence present in these original texts.


Some of the violence
used in Pinocchio serves almost as a means to add comedy into a scene,

‘And, becoming
more and more angry, from words they came to blows, and , flying at each other,
hey bit and fought, and scratched.’2

In this section, the wood that would become
Pinocchio begins to purposely antagonise Master Antonio and Geppetto. This
section, I believe, adds a certain silliness to the old characters, likely to
be amusing to a young reader, and possibly an older one. However, this seen
does link to the quote made earlier in the essay by Mary Tatar, to a degree.
Whilst this was not violence faced directly by Pinocchio, it is violence that
is caused by a floor in Pinocchio’s cheeky and antagonistic personality. Whilst
it is likely not the case, it is possible to suggest that this was Collodi
showing an early sign of the damage that can be caused as a result of
Pinocchio’s actions.

It would not be outlandish to think that Collodi
would want to children about the perils of bad behaviour, as he apparently
(according to new found information) disliked children. Especially badly
behaved children3.
The initial ending that Collodi wanted for the story was to have Pinocchio hung
for his actions. In an article called ‘Bad things happen to bad children’ by Nathaniel
Rich, the original ended was written as follows,

‘a tempestuous
northerly wind began to blow and roar angrily, and it beat the poor puppet from
side to side, making him swing violently, like the clatter of a bell ringing
for a wedding. And the swinging gave him atrocious spasms….

His breath failed him and he could say no more. He shut his eyes, opened his
mouth, stretched his legs, gave a long shudder, and hung stiff and insensible.

        The end.’

This ending combined with knowledge that the childless Collodi
did not like children would indicate to me that Collodi used violence in his
story order to show what can happen to you if you are bad, and influence young
readers to behave with a better moral code than he (Collodi) apparently believed
children at the time had. The psychologist and author Julius Ernest Heuscher
has written about the effect that folklore and fairy tales with these themes on
young readers,

‘There can be
little doubt that offering a fairy tale to a fifteen-month old child would pose
a threat, as he could hardly separate its content from his everyday world. It
is unwise to narrate fairy tales to children much below 4 or 5 years old. The years
from 5 until 12 are those during which the child both enjoys and learns from
the fairy tale, just as the adolescent years can be enriched by legends, epos, ballads,
and myths. A rejecting or insecure parent may use the cruelties in folklore for
his own sadistic or controlling needs which in the absence of fairy tale would undoubtedly
find other equally effective and equally harmful expressions.’4

writings would indicate that whilst violence in story telling does work as a
vessel to pass moral teaching and information, it would be abusive to try make
a very young reader learn through this manor. Whilst I would agree that it
would be wrong to make someone not able to understand what they are consuming
is a story read stories with such graphic violence, I think it is undeniable the
lessons that Pinocchio taught and the effect that the story and character has
had on pop-culture and society.
Daniela Guglietta-Possamai seems to
find an explanation for Collodi’s in
her paper ‘The Twists and
Turns of a Timeless Puppet: Violence and the Translation and Adaptation of
Carlo Collodi’s Le avventure di Pinocchio’,

‘As a nineteenth-century children’s
author, Carlo Collodi, too, drew on the recurring motifs of violence and death
in vogue at the time. Unfortunately, owing to the dearth of pertinent material
on violence in nineteenth-century Italian children’s literature, I cannot
comment on either its use and significance specifically within the Italian
literary context or its influence on Collodi and Pinocchio. Fortunately, however,
what is known about the Italian author is that in writing his masterpiece he
relied heavily on the classical tradition—The Odyssey (Homer), The Aeneid
(Virgil), and The Divine Commedy (Dante)’5

would appear a possible reason for Collodi’s violent influence on the story and
teachings of Pinocchio stretch much further than the belief of he simply does
not like children. Writing in 19th century Italy was generally
rather conservative. And as Collodi, like a lot of the contemporaries of that
time, was influenced by the Greek texts and stories which championed moral
teaching and logic. It would appear this is just how the writing of the time
worked and violence with the following repercussions was a fantastic way to
convey that message.

would appear that a large amount of the torment that Pinocchio suffers
throughout his adventure do in fact support the statement earlier referenced by
Mary Tatar. There does seem to be an action that Pinocchio does that is met
with an almost Einsteinian sense of reaction. Pinocchio’s misfortunes are
always a result of his wrong doings. Whether that is because he was violent or acted
out of Geppetto’s   best interest. This would appear to be a
result of children’s literature across Europe at the time taking a degree of
influence from older Greek stories, taking their habit to have a strong moral
teaching throughout the piece.

Carroll also appears to have put teachings into Alice in Wonderland, but not in
the conventional style of writing seen in children’s literature during the Victorian
period. Lewis Carroll held many roles throughout his life. A mathematician and
a logician to name a few, Carroll was quite obviously a well-educated man. Carroll’s
time of writing was one of great change for Great Britain. With developments
such as the development of Darwinism as well as the industrial revolution, it
was a time where a lot of what people thought was not possible suddenly became
possible. Carroll’s writing a lot of the time is not explicitly violent.
However, when you reread the book as an adult, there is actually violence
present, it just seems to be spoken rather than acted out. This can be seen in
chapter 4 of Alice in Wonderland,

‘We must burn the house
down!’ said the Rabbit’s voice. And Alice called out as loud as she could, ‘If
you do, I’ll set Dinah at you!’

appears to me to be a lot packed into what is quite a small quote. Firstly, the
exchange between the two characters seems relatively light but what both acts
are suggesting are actually rather alarming. Mr. Rabbit wanting to burn down
the house is manic, whilst Alice suggesting that she should get her cat to attack
the Rabbit seems savage. This statement is made even more alarming when you
consider that all these animals in the fantastical world that Lewis Carroll has
created appear to be sentient, so there appears to be tones actually suggesting
the Rabbit should be murdered. Another reading that can be given to this scene
could potentially suggest that Lewis Carroll is actually making links to Darwinism
in this writing. As discussed earlier, Carroll’s time of writing was dominated
by what could have been arguably the biggest string of scientific break
throughs that the world had seen by that point. I feel it would be hard to
believe that any writer working at this time could avoid being even slightly influenced
by the new discoveries of the time. This scene could be Carroll retelling a
verbal tale of survival of the fittest, suggesting that the cat kill the rabbit
in a battle of supremacy, linking the text to Darwinism.

verbal attacks between characters can, when analysed, can have horrible connotations,
Carroll’s use of actual violence in Alice and Wonderland tends to be used as a
way of shocking Alice yet keep the story fight free enough for it to stay as a
kids book to, as George Kruglov pointed out in his article called ‘Diluted and
Ineffectual violence in the Alice Books’,

‘violent acts committed by
characters throughout lack the aspect of damage and injury, making the violence
watered down and ineffective.’6

Carroll’s use of this type
of violence can be seen in chapter 6 of Alice in Wonderland,

‘the cook takes the cauldron of soup
off the fire, and at once set to work throwing everything within her reach at
the Duchess and the baby.’

an act of violence making physical contact does not appear in this section, any
adult will see that the Duchess and the baby nearly got scolded in what was a
terrible and outrageous act by the cook. Whilst a child may be able to
understand this act was bad, it takes until you become an adult to realise just
how dangerous and violent this act is. Lewis Carroll seems to use violence in
many forms to show when people are acting wrong. Whilst the reader may not pick
up on the severity of the actions, I certainly did not at that age, throughout
the story the violent words and violent actions performed by characters seem
absolutely abhorrent. Whilst Carroll’s presentation of violence is less obvious
than other writing at the time and before, like Pinocchio, there still seems to
be an almost subconscious teaching the violence should be avoided as violence
brings danger to yourself and people around you.

interesting thing about Alice as protagonist is that at times she seems to
react to the violent themes and violent characters running throughout the
story. This can be seen in chapter 6,

‘The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her
for a moment like a wild beast, began screaming “Off with her head! Off
with – ” “Nonsense!” said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the
Queen was silent.’ 

presents the Queen of Hearts as one of the most violent characters in the story
whilst at the same time portraying her similar to a petulant child. All of her
problems she solves by beheading people. When she becomes intimidated by Alice,
she naturally threatens and commands that she be beheaded. Yet Alice’s response
leaves the queen bested. It is possible that this section of the story, this interchange,
was written by Lewis Carroll to show the reader that Alice brings human reaction
to the violence in Wonderland. Whilst she may at times react like a child in
the story, this is understandable as Alice is obviously a child. Yet at times
like these, when in the face of blatant violence, Alice seems to mirror the
reaction of the reader. Whilst Lewis Carroll wrote the story Alice in Wonderland
as a story for children, and it is still considered children’s literature, over
the years after the book was published many adults have taken to the book and
it is possible to argue that the adult audience for Alice in Wonderland is
potentially a lot larger than the intended children’s audience. Yet the sense
that Alice reflects the views of the reader still seems to be an accurate
reading of her reactions in the story. It is possible that Lewis Carroll’s
portrayal of Alice in the story actually teaches the reader right from wrong through
the reactions to the violence. An interesting point about the queen of Hearts
was brought up by Dennis Knepp in Lotte Roelofs’ academic paper ‘Peter Pan and Alice’s Adventures in
Wonderland: The Influence of Dystopian Elements on the Teaching of Morals,

‘Dennis Knepp argues that the Queen of
Hearts is used to satirise dictators, because many “ruthless tyrants terrorize
the people, supposedly for their own good’7

is possible to suggest that this was Lewis Carroll subtly casting his opinion
on Queen Victoria II, as she was the reigning monarch at the time

notion I find quite interesting Is that I do not think that Lewis Carroll’s
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland actually applies to the statement earlier made
by Mary Tatar. Whilst it may be true for certain exceptions, I believe for the
most part that a lot of the drama and violence that Alice falls victim to in
the book actually stem from the behaviour of other characters rather than the
young naïve protagonist in Alice. Granted, whilst I would not class Alice in
Wonderland as a fairy tale, and Fairy tale character mishaps is what Mary Tatar
was focusing on, I feel this shows a change in the reception of violence in
children’s literature as children’s literature has developed across centuries. Despite
being published in the 19th century, Collodi’s presentation of
violence in Pinocchio is vastly different to Lewis Carroll’s presentation and
use of violence in Alice in Wonderland. Though I suppose you could suggest that
late 19th century Italy, that Collodi was writing in, and the mid to
late Great Britain, that Lewis Carroll was writing in, were vastly different
places. Collodi’s Pinocchio, despite being published after Alice in Wonderland,
seems a lot more dated with its heavily folklore inspired way of using extreme
graphic violence and subsequent punishment as a way to portray a moral to the
story. Alice in Wonderland, however, features a strong female protagonist who
reacts in the face of violence. Carroll’s type of violence he gives us the
reader is different to what his fellow writers were offering at the time. Alice
in Wonderland definitely seems relevant and ahead of its time compared to

is interesting, however, that after all the differences between the presentation
of violence in Collodi’s Pinocchio and the violence in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s
Adventures in Wonderland, that both the texts have in some sense graduated to
be read by all readers rather than just young readers. In fact, similar to the
point I made earlier that the protagonist Alice lending herself more to an
adult reader than a child reader, many feel that the Pinocchio actually also
lends itself to a more grown up reader. It is as I got older that I started to
notice literary choices that Collodi made, such as beginning the story with the
classic fairy tale opening, ‘Once upon a time.’, then beginning to break fairy
tale tropes, which I can appreciate as a very smart decision now I have gotten
older and a more experienced reader. I think whilst the two texts use two
completely different styles of violence to varying levels of shock, both texts
still use violence as a way to convey teachings to the young reader, and to





1 The
Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle, 1969

2 Pinocchio
Ibooks version, Whitman publishing company.

things happen to bad children, Nathaniel Rich

4 Julius
Ernest Heuscher, found in Violence and fear in fairy tales, by David Boudinot.

5 Daniela
Guglietta-Possamai, The Twists and Turns of a Timeless Puppet: Violence and the
Translation and Adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s Le avventure di Pinocchio

6 Diluted
and ineffectual violence in the Alice books, George Kruglov.

7 Peter
Pan and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: The Influence of Dystopian Elements
on the Teaching of Morals, Lotte Roelofs.

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