This argumentative essay utilizes the mechanism of intertextuality to analyze three different English classics namely: Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1868-69); R. L. Stevenson, Treasure Island (1883) and Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902). Intertextuality establishes the relationships between different texts, here ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’, compared how the reader was influenced by the depiction of pictures as an additional methodology. Little Women and Treasure Island targeted specific genders and age groups. This essay seeks to establish connections or influence between these different books.
Intertextuality enables the establishment of relationships between texts. Such can be derived intentionally by the author or without any specific intention. Furthermore, direct reference can enable intertextuality as can more subtle or indirect forms of literacy expression. Intertextuality often uses history as a basis from which to compare or contrast text.
Pope (2005) suggests that intertextuality is a vehicle that enables the writer to influence how subsequent books are written. This can be viewed as cooperation between authors. These books were written during different time periods regarding lifestyles, cultures and perceptions uniquely pertaining to a specific time period. The three books can be enjoyed by everybody although they were directed at specific genders and age groups.
Alcott wrote ‘Little Women’ as an autobiographical study of herself, depicting both her viewpoints and experiences. It focuses on deep relationships within families, specifically the close ties and bonds between females. Jo, one of the central characters displayed a measure of independence while she was also pictured as vulnerable when she elected to marry. Alcott sought to draw on her own personal experiences while growing up as a child and used Jo as an example of the confusion experienced by most teenagers undergoing the transition from teenager to womanhood.
Alcott’s literary masterpiece influenced the behavior of other characters depicted in Treasure Island; written at a later time period. Even though the central theme of Treasure Island was directed at male masculinity, Jim Hawkin’s independent stance coupled to vulnerability could be viewed by readers as intertextually derived from Alcott’s portrayal of Jo. Stevenson used Jim to present an unbiased or non-moral viewpoint on other characters depicted in Treasure Island while presenting Jim as a character that viewed the world from a man’s perspective. This included Stevenson’s effort to present Jim as a “flawed narrator” (Block 2, p. 73) thereby allowing the inference that men are characteristically flawed. Even the rogue was depicted as lovable or endowed with traits that were to be admired “Long John told the story from first to last, with a great deal of spirit and the most perfect truth” (Stevenson, 1883, p. 65). Here, Stevenson engaged the sympathy of the reader by narrating events through Jim’s eyes; Alcott elicited sympathy combined with morality. Intertextuality enabled a method to describe the environment in which girls grew up, how they reacted to different situations and outcomes. Similarly, Stevenson also established how a boy growing into a man sees both people and life and how they react to it. This intertextuality enables both writers to establish gender norms during different periods of time. Intertextuality assisted the establishment of social norms or perceptions by allowing the transfer of such social characteristics to influence text written during a different time period.
Differences between genders was referred to in Block 2 from two English classics by two different authors during the nineteenth century. According to Block 1, childhood was seen as a social construct as was their gender. Whereas children today are viewed more inclusively without isolating their gender differences, both authors provided specific focus into one specific gender. However, these two authors provided an in-depth analysis of separate genders which enables modern society to establish basic norms such as morality and culture, such influencing a child’s understanding of life and adulthood. Block 2 argues that such differences between genders are no longer so relevant and therefore are challenged by more modern literature. Despite the narrower viewpoints derived by these authors, Block 2 points out that such previous classics have added to a child’s understanding of their more modern social environment. Block 2 notes that this influence can allow children to identify themselves with their own gender due to Alcott’s ability to create gender specific books.
Likewise, Stevenson in terms of intertextuality, enabled both boys and men to be viewed as uniquely different and therefore in isolation.
(Block 1, p. 9) refers to the age of the readers that may read children’s literature. Both children and adults were targeted as potential readers by both Alcott and Stevenson as they both sought to point out the challenges imposed during childhood and how those challenges were answered or addressed during entry into adulthood. Perhaps for the child, Alcott’s intention was to influence a girl’s perceptions regarding the value of a strong family environment and the role played by individual family members within a changing scenario as they grew up into womenhood. This influence acted as a warning preventative tactic yet designed to administer uplifting advice as depicted by Mrs March “Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault” (Alcott, 1869, p. 69).
However, Stevenson allocated a significant part of the book to the avoidance of a judgmental stance as seen when Jim overheard Silver planning a mutiny yet he noted “A very remarkable man” (Stevenson, 1883, p. 94), such celebrating masculinity rather than Silver’s betrayal, thereby challenging young male readers. As noted earlier, Stevenson allowed Jim Hawkins to express his personal feelings by employing rhetoric from which to influence the young reader. Stevenson highlighted male masculinity in both a boy and a man and also connect this perceived male superiority to Jim’s own weakness or vulnerability.
Moreover, Jim narrated both strengths and weaknesses in other characters such as a villain which in modern times may be considered as undesirable, but from Stevenson’s point of view, the villain was a lovable character. Alcott constructed literature that was protective in nature for the young reader, whereas Stevenson depicted a less restrictive view in which he saw his responsibility as someone who motivates or encourages young male readers to aspire to greater things, and that loyalty and honor are primary attributes of manhood. He considered these two attributes as more important than personal or family relationships although he did acknowledge their relevance to the transition from youth to manhood. Additionally, Jim’s personal narrative of ‘likeable villains’ may be considered by some educationalists as adversely impacting a child’s healthy physical and psychological development. By depicting such characters in a more positive light, modern thinkers may view such characterization as encouraging today’s child to participate in immoral or unsociable practices, resulting in outcomes that are not beneficial to society. Furthermore, from a child’s point of view, this characterization can lead to confusion and even rebellion from a child thereby negatively affecting a child’s psychological well-being.
Both Alcott and Stevenson targeted the adult reader utilizing a different methodology. Alcott was driven by the need to re-affirm the status and importance of women in society to the adult female reader. Eighteenth century culture and lifestyle placed women in a relatively lower status in society compared to modern women, often relegating them to a restrictive dual role of wife and subsequent motherhood. Perhaps she may have laid the groundwork for women to expand their role within society but Alcott was restricted perhaps by current perceptions at the time of writing. Notwithstanding, she may have also been influential in inspiring a measure of confidence and self-worth in women as she attempted to justify the challenges that women experienced during the 18th century and sought to highlight the correctness of their decisions without avoiding areas of conflict and negative attitudes.
Treasure Island is accessed by both children and adults. Stevenson’s objective regarding potential adult male readers can be ascertained as multifunctional or multi-layered. First, despite being narrated by a child or a boy within the transitional phase from youth to manhood, he nether the less directed the narrative to provide excitement and adventure that would appeal to men of all ages. He depicted scenarios wherein a situation or event was developed that appeared catastrophic or dire for the participants involved. However, his ability to create a plot and subsequent climax that depicted survival strategies and portrayed male strength potentially endeared the hero Jim Hawkins to the adult readers. Stevenson assumed that his readers would identify themselves with each episode or recount of an event thereby leading to the male reader’s ability to stimulate their imagination or engage in ‘wishful thinking’.
From an 18th century point of view, whereas a woman’s initial area of imagination may aspire to more domestic orientated scenarios, Stevenson assumed or judged a man to be more biased towards a sense of adventure and the ‘unknown’. Perhaps in that period of time, women were less secure than in these more modern times as they were in part more dependent on men for their security and protection. Block 1 asks if the subject matter influences categorizing a book as a children’s book. Here it is clear the subject matter; domestic family life and adventure, appeals to both children and adults therefore these two English classics do not belong in any specific age category.
Children are depicted by Alcott in large part as subjects requiring teaching and discipline as they were often comparing themselves with their peers, “I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all” (Alcott, 1869, p. 7). This tendency for children to compare themselves to other children still persists in modern times. On the one hand they are depicted as complex human beings yet on the other hand are endowed with certain commonalities such a love of family values and an appreciation of the security of sisterhood. Stevenson saw male children as young men; the difference between a teenage boy and a man was perhaps blurred and of little consequence. Perhaps was due to the author’s perception that both boys and men had the same or similar desires and were possessed by the same or similar abilities. Throughout Treasure Island’s narrative, youths were tasked the same or similar duties as men. Similarly, youths had to accept any outcomes, whether adverse or positive. Essentially, although he portrayed Jim as a youth who frequently asked for advice, he also depicted him as someone with a sense of responsibility in that he accepted outcomes and consequences regardless if they were derived from his own decisions or from the advice of others.
Block 1 also illustrates the element of instruction as a foundation from which a girl progresses into womanhood. Modern society may consider such instruction and advice as still relevant to the success of a girl’s transition into womanhood. Alcott viewed instruction and morality as essential elements to a girl’s development rather than seducing her into womanhood via painting a picture of ‘delight’ as defined in Block 1. Furthermore, she continued this theme in her attempt to lure adult female readers, by laying emphasis on how what is expected from a woman and how they should address such expectations. While not deliberately misleading or detracting from the positive aspects of women hood and marriage, she also avoided over romanticizing or facilitating an unrealistic ‘delightful’ scenario. She employed the mechanism of intertextuality’ so as to provide a relevant context to the background of the story thereby providing a measure of justification for setting the scene. Moreover, Alcott may to some extent been influenced by what was considered as normal within society in that period of time, and specifically that which was considered to be correct within the domestic and family environment. So by the utilization of intertextuality she enabled an interrelationship between how she portrayed her characters and how her peers viewed similar domestic and family issues during 18th century life. In large part, Alcott viewed girls as problematic rather than being carefree or having the capacity to be happy.
She developed a setting of the period utilizing her ability to create a dialogue from person to person that was rhetorically created to present a reality to how life was at that time. This classic can be seen as an attempt to attract both young and adult readers by creating reality using “patterns of speech that she heard and the imagery of her everyday life” (Block 1, p. 35) yet also incorporating a measure of ‘fantasy’ or wishful thinking. Throughout ‘Little women’, Alcott tried to present the challenges of seventeenth century life while also appealing to the reader’s sense of romanticism and intrigue. Even though the book was primarily targeted at the adult reader, the appeal to older children lay in her ability to “write from experience or from a particular empathy with children” (Block 1, p. 36).
However, Alcott was not entirely consistent in her approach to how girls mature into women. She also allocated an element of a romantism into Little Women and in doing so turned her attention more to the adult female reader. Here she set the scene of Jo’s relationship and marriage which in turn provided the reader that there was an element of delight or “pleasure” (Block 1, p. 9). This strategy therefore played a dual role and that it provided instruction or could be viewed “academically” (p. 9). As such, she provided both instruction and delight as a dual benefit whereas Block 1 presents them as a choice (instruction or delight); thereby suggesting that Alcott believed that such compliance to instruction would enable a reward in the form of a happy ending. However, it is clear that her primary focus was on the element of instruction and guidance so as to both warn and prepare young girls for the challenges imposed by maturing into adulthood (Block 1). Perhaps the inclusion of this element pertaining to a happy ending was directed to potential readers, therefore such could be interpreted as a marketing strategy rather than a belief derived from her own experiences.
Treasure Island written 14 years later also provided a historical perspective to the setting of his story albeit in a narrative format. Both young and old readers can appreciate the narrative while comparing it to their lifestyle. Stevenson assumed “a tone not of moral clarity but of moral ambiguity” (Block 2, p. 73). Readers of all ages can choose regarding a character’s morality, be it the hero, Jim or other characters who may have possessed less scruples yet were depicted as fun or loveable. A man’s strength or weakness were viewed as equally relevant to to the evolving of a boy into manhood; the practice of good morals was not considered important . The use of rhetorical dialogue as a litertary device allowed him to “delight” (Block 1, p. 9) rather than provide advice; a feature of intertextualization. All male readers were targeted by “masculine trials of physical and moral strength” (Block 2, p. 73).
Beatrix Potter clearly targeted the very young reader by creating a context of background and authenticity while facilitating fantasy and intrigue. It is clear that although her book was in part instructional, her primary objective was to “delight” her young readers (Block 1, p. 9) clearly establishing an intertextuality between this book and Treasure Island. Potter used a dual presentation of pictures and rhetoric so as to link children’s idealistic view of life to an adult’s perception of reality. She elicited sympathy from her young readers so that they could identify themselves with the characters such as “I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening” (Potter, 1902, p.13). Central to Potter’s style and theme, much attention was directed at the mother figure, as was depicted in Little Women. The maternal side was equally directed at Peter who was depicted as “but Peter, who was very naughty” (p. 5) and the other female rabbits who were pictured as ‘less troublesome’. Peter was depicted as different to his sisters “Wile Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail were on there way to pick blackberries. Peter was trying to determine” (p. 4). Potter depicted Peter as a boy intent on adventure or naughty thereby enabling intertextuality with Stevenson’s view of masculinity, yet also highlighting the good behavior of girls which in turn via intertextuality is linked to Alcott. Potter creation of fairy tale settings coupled to children and maternal figures enabled a ‘delightful’ interaction between a mother and child (Block 1). Such colorful text bridged the gap between fiction and non-fiction for the young reader.
All 3 books targeted the smooth transition from childhood to adulthood however, while Potter wrote specifically for children, Alcott set a methodology from which the other two writers borrowed the ‘formula’ of developing a setting for the period in which their stories were written. All three authors absorbed reality and translated it into fictionalized narrative. This connected the gulf between the child’s view of life and an adult’s perception of reality. Potter employed a fairy tale setting and then utilized young rabbits as the principle characters coupled to a maternal figure. This provided instruction regarding a mother’s interaction with a child (Block 1). Such directly appeals to the younger mind and imagination while also allowing them to identify with their own daily reality. She included pictures and rhetorical speech to enhance the child’s fantasy (delight), while linking fiction and non-fiction; or that of reality. Moreover, her more ambitious target was the smooth transition from childhood to adulthood. Notwithstanding, the other two authors were focused into providing domestic and romantic settings with a taste of adventure that would appeal to all readers, both children and adult.
Alcott, L. M., 1869. Little Women. Oxford World's Classics. ISBN 978-0199538119.
Potter, B., 1902. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Frederick Warne. ISBN 978-0723247708.
Stevenson, R. L., 1883. Treasure Island. Oxford World's Classics. ISBN 978-0199560356.
Montgomery, H., 2009. Blocks 1 and 2: EA300 Children’s Literature Study Guide. Open University, UK.