Use one of the following quotes from Northrop Frye's The Educated Imagination to consider how literary criticism can help us unpack a creative text. For example, how can the study of literature help us better understand, think more clearly or feel more sensitively about children or childhood?
“Imagination gives us both a better and a worse world than the one we usually live with, and demands that we keep looking steadily at them bothLiterature gives us an experience that stretches us vertically to the heights and depths of what the human mind can conceive, to what corresponds to the conceptions of heaven and hell in religionNo matter how much experience we may gather in life, we can never in life get the dimension of experience that the imagination gives us. Only the arts and sciences can do that, and of these, only literature gives us the whole sweep and range of human imagination as it sees itself.” (58, 61) "The Educated Imagination, Northrop Frye.
Literature provides a lot of intellectual and special gifts which includes increase in knowledge, in an intellectual and actively challenging way which other activities like watching TV cannot possibly do. Thoroughly reading literature not only provides knowledge about its heritage but also increases the awareness of sociology, history, culture, psychology and a lot of other branches . These however, are not the only reasons that people choose literature. Imagination is the most important gift one can achieve by reading literature. It increases the ability to understand complexities of humans sympathize with fellow beings and enhances our horizons which give us the capability to experience life from a different aspect.
“How shall I live?” is the first philosophical question that comes into the minds of people when they mature with time. This has also been elaborated and translated into different directions and through various disciplines . If we look back to wisdom only, then Aristotle seems a good advisor who said that the person who has more knowledge is most likely knowing how to live. The influence and important of imagination on critique and creation of literature differs within and between the different artistic times. Human imagination since the time of Aristotle has been linked to value and power of art and in some eras, imagination was more superior and included articulation of motivation, and manner .
Childhood is an important part of a person’s life and most of the imagination takes place at that time. Looking at childhood in David Copperfield, imagine a child being locked away in the attic in a hysterical condition; he is glancing around at the walls, and after a short time, distracts himself by pulling out a book from the shelf. He starts reading the book and is instantly transferred to another world different from his own . He starts forming a picture in his mind from the words that he reads and does not stop until he finishes the entire book. This experience for a child is a lot different from how is treated in his real life . He will return to this experience again and again and at one stage, he will start writing his very own literature.
Even the literary writers know the importance of childhood and have used it in many of their books which have helped the readers to understand the complexities of a child. Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird has illustrated childhood in many different methods. In the first part of her novel, she uses an adult’s role to show childhood with quotations like “Hush your mouth! Don't matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house's yo’com’NY, and don't you let me catch you remaking' on their ways like you was so high and mighty!" This shows Calpurnia teaching Jem and Scout to behave while a guest is present in the house . Further, Lee shows the readers about a different behavior of childhood which presents how they act when something wrong has occurred. “The world’s endin’ Atticus! Please do something!” this particular quote displays the innocence and inexperience of children and how they think the world is ending when something serious happens. Harper Lee also conveyed to the reader through her narration as a child that she is more of an adult and not a child anymore . She reminds the readers in chapter eleven “When we were small” which shows that she is presenting childhood to the readers. She uses slang and informal language whenever she is writing from the point of a child like “You gonna give me a chance to tell you? I don’t mean to sass you; I’m just trying’ to tell you.” The writer also builds up the childhood by letting the readers to find out about something that happened. In the first chapter, the writer quoted, “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow” .
Childhood is represented in a lot of books of literature. Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland goes through different and strange changes physically. These changes make her feel that she is never the correct size which symbolizes the changes that children go through puberty . These changes make Alice feel very sad, frustrating, discomforting and traumatic while she is going through them. Throughout the story, Alice is struggling to maintain a size that is comfortable for her. Alice in Chapter 1 feels upset when her sizes differ from big and small in order to enter the garden. Similarly in chapter 5, her neck grows to a strange length which makes her lose control over her parts. These representations clearly indicate the feelings of children when they are going through such physical changes during puberty .
Alice also comes across different puzzles which crystal solutions and leaves her frustrating. She expects that the puzzles would make some sense but they constantly test her capabilities to understand the world she is in. she is presented by the Mad Hatter’s riddle, the Queen’s croquet game and Caucus’s race, but she is not able to understand a clear solution of each of them. Alice then understands that she cannot expect to find meaning or logic even if they seem like they are simple and might have a solution. This symbolizes the frustrated expectations in life even when they seem to be having a solution .
The most basic theme one can find in Alice in Wonderland is the theme of Growing up. The author Lewis Carroll loved the innocent and unprejudiced way that the children access the world. Through the story, the author wanted the readers to know how the children see the adult world which includes the social manners and rules along with the bad habits and egos that the adults have developed in their lives. The story represents the struggle of the child that he undergoes to survive in the adult’s world. Alice in order to understand that has to conquer the characteristic of open-mindedness .
The adults in this word require rules to live their lives and they are following it blindly without asking the need of them. This particular thing leads Alice to experience arbitrary and incomprehensible behavior in Wonderland. When Alice enters the Wonderland, she finds reasoning and living that is very different from her own life. She finds a Duchess who has a strong determination of looking for moral in everything. Alice finds a lot of difficulties but with time, she learns about the adult world more because she is growing up. Her physical changes of shrinking and growing are clearly represented in the story. As her journey continues, Alice understands the world more and learns how to deal with the rules of the world. By the end of the story, Alice has adjusted herself in the world and has left her imagination that is attached with childhood. When she is matured enough to understand the world, she wakes up in the real world of adults instead of the children’s world of imagination .
Alice in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ has already become a woman. The writer tells the readers about her childhood days of glory with a hint of sadness. In the first story, she was still learning and being told about things and rules of the adult world. In the second story, she is more confident. Alice during her travel in the Wonderland discovers that the expectations she makes up from the wonderland would only frustrate her. She learns that the lessons that she learnt are no longer of any need and she recites poems in the wrong manners, and blotches the tables of multiplication .
The literary writings in the eighteenth and nineteenth century have the concept of child as a ‘shadow of the adult,’ meaning children were being portrayed how adults wanted them to be and not how children in reality existed. Lewis Carroll took the idea of the shadow and through his writings called upon the attention of the readers to clear the wrong ideas about children . Through his works, he actually gave voice to the children that he had come across his life so the argument is basically about the shadows; the shadows children cast themselves, the shadows as identity, the adult’s shadow of children and the children as the shadows of the adults. Children and shadows both have a very simple concept. Shadow is absence of light while childhood is a part of human development. The children are a product of sexuality of adults and go through major changes in the literary world. Lewis Carroll understands the childhood misconceptions and creates a lens through his work through which childhood can be viewed by the adults. In his different works, he has applied shadows to understand the children but the hard outlines are created by harsh lights which are resembled much closely than the adult’s creation of soft shadows which with time help the children to make their personal shadows .
Photos and illustrations are one aspect but at the same time, the audience requires reading to explain the deeper picture. Lewis Carroll however did not have the important talent of illustrating the meaning of his text in a perfect illustrated manner due to which he worked with John Tenniel to fill the shadows that were missing and gave dimension to the literary child of Lewis Carroll. The character created by Lewis is also a shadow; not just of who wrote the story and for whom the story was told, but also of every child in the world. The story includes storytellers who are the child audience itself . In writing the story, Lewis Carroll gives a good insight of how the children’s mind works. He recognizes the misinterpretations by the adults about childhood and their inability to effectively communicate with adults. He creates a world full of imagination and fantasy to describe the child’s shadow formed by the child. So the shadows of the child are defined clearly since they do not belong entirely to his personal imagination .
The concept of shadows of children does not end with Carroll, but he also focuses and asks the adults to observe the children without posing their religion, clothes, desire or reformation. He forms a lens for them through which he explains that the children are neither evil nor good . The books still serve as shadows and have not gotten more liberal for example the character of Harry Potter and Wendy in Peter Pan show the struggle of children with their shadows. These characters are more thoughtful about their status as evil or good than in Alice in Wonderland. The character of Peter symbolizes the childhood and how the shadow is sewn onto the child. Wendy in Neverland gets a chance to try both roles of being an evil pirate and a child and realizes that she does not want to be them both for forever. After that, she returns to her home to grow up there. The character of Harry Potter relates more with the shadows of Lewis Carroll for children . He is a more real character who is abused and orphaned and is forced to spend his life in the’ cupboard under the stairs.’ Furthermore, when he goes to Hogwarts, he finds it to be the truth but later realizes that Hogwarts cannot protect him and in every book, he draws into danger unlike when he was at the Dorsey’s. In the Grim Gotto, Baudelaire’s also analyses the shadows from within himself and the children enter the cave which is under the water where then they define each selves by the past’s shadows. Baudelaire, Harry, and Wendy, all of them give a comment on the darkness that is growing and surrounding the children in the 20th and 21st century. The readings themselves serve as the cave which defines the children’s shadows .
The modern writers however have not represented the children characters as weak. Unlike Alice, Wendy, Harry, and Baudelaire’s do not cry over their situations. Wendy is metaphorically orphaned while Baudelaire’s and Harry are literally orphaned and they have to survive on their own in the world. These characters do not have any adult supervision which gives them power over the evil characters for some time. So these characters are represented as the role models for children who read them, however at the same time these characters also represent and reflect rea children .
Literature has used children in a lot of books and it has helped understand their nature and sensitivity towards them. Throughout the years, writers have created children characters and presented childhood in a lot of interesting manners. There is quite a lot of difference in how the eighteenth century writers represented children and how the 21st century writers now represent children. The 18th century writers presented children in more complex manners while the modern writers create role models for children with whom the children can relate in a lot of manners and the adults can understand those characters which would in turn help them to understand the problems of their own children.
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Kelen, Kit and Bjorn Sundmark. The Nation in Children’s Literature: Nations of Childhood. London: Routledge, 2013. Online.
Mcgavran, James Holt. Literature and the Child: Romantic Continuations, Postmodern Contestations. Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1998. Online.
Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Harvard University Press, 1992. Online.
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