Writing With Care
All of us have anarrative compass of our own: a story shapes our research, motivates us and help us to learn wisdom, guides us when we are happy or sad. (1) Book reading leaves an indelible impression upon the minds of the readers. It helps to shape our professional and personal life. There is at least one crucial book in every reader’s list that helps to shape them.
E.M Foster’s A Passage to India led Wendy Doniger to study Sanskrit at Harvard and become the President of the Association for Asian Studies—and also reconnected her unexpectedly to her own Jewish roots. After reading The Secret Garden Christine A Jenkins switched from being a children’s librarian to seek out gay/lesbian literature for the young readers.
Susan Lohafer asserts: “A story creates a small world, a fake world, a tragic or a crazy one: it may be familiar, bizarre, tangible, abstract, reported or dreamed. It may be but the weirdest fragment, yet it will cast a rounded shadow on our minds...” (2)
Understanding the impact of reading on the mind of the reader, writing for children becomes a very difficult task. Only those who have been interested in the education of a family, who have patiently followed children in their various phases of reasoning, who have regularly studied their thought process and feelings—those who understand with what ease and rapidity the early association of ideas are formed are eligible to take up the Himalayan task. The authors must understand that the reading of their text will help in the development of the future taste, character and happiness. They must beware and acknowledge the dangers and difficulties of such an undertaking.
Award winning children’s writer Katherine Paterson states in a State of Wonder, her fascinating book on writing for children. “Mythology and fairy tales deal directly with archetypes...they help children...to face and conquer their inner dragons.”(3)
Parents of children are always very careful of not exposing the young minds to vice. It is however best that they receive an early shock with the representation of what they are to avoid. There is always a big gap between innocence and ignorance. This can be done effectively through stories. But then the exposure has to be tempered—calculated. To prevent the ideas of morality and of triumph of good over evil from tiring the ear and the mind, it is essential to make the stories dramatic, to keep alive hope, fear and curiousity.But the authors must keep from exhibiting false hopes which can never be realized.
In Children’s Literature, it is common that human beings and other supernatural beings talk and live together. In The Princess and the Frog, the frog transforms itself into a prince. In the Beauty and theBeast, transformsinto a prince. Such superrealism such as distortion, exaggeration, and imagination and impersonation is very common in children’s literature. Such stories do arouse a child’s imagination and curiosity, but is always required that the young readers read the stories under parental guidance where they are made to understand the difference and the reality. Otherwise there is every possibility that a child should catch hold of a frog and wait for it to transform which could cost the frog’s life.
Writers and poets have often been very careless while narrating stories to the young children. Unknowingly, the authors reveal facts that have a negative impact upon the thinking process of children.
Fairy tales, legends and stories usually have complete narrative modes which develop from a peaceful beginning to an exciting ending, with trials and failures in the interim. This mode has a positive impact on childrenwhich makes themlearn that failure upon failure sometimes results in success. They understand the importance of determination, perseverance and they learn that difficulties appear for the time being, but with effort and grit, they can overcome them.
In Ramayana, the epic story, Rama is sent on an exile for fourteen years. During his stay in the forest, his wife is kidnapped by Ravana, the king of Lanka.A war ensued.Rama managed to destroy Lanka and bring Sita back to Ayodhya safely. Good triumphed over evil.
The pursuit of happy endings is also seen in abundance in Children’s Literature which encourages the pursuit of optimistic spirit, bright future and happy endings. At times however this tendency to stretch the “feel good” notiona bit too far has a negative effect.
In Anita Desai’s Cry the Peacock we come across the following lines: “I will certainly speak of him[father].He is the one responsible for this—for making you believe that all that is important in the world is to possess riches ,comforts,posies,dollies,royal retainers—all the luxuries of the fairy tales you were brought up on. Life is a fairy tale to you still. What have you learnt of the realities? The realities of common human existence, not love and romance, but living and working, all that constitutes life of an ordinary man. You won’t find it in your picture books. What wickedness to raise a child like that!”
“I had the happiest childhood. They were my happiest times.”
“Yes and all you ever knew was happiness. What a crime! A crime because it was a delusion. And here you are, capable of seeing nothing but delusions, imagining them to be real. How prettily you stroll in your garden, dreaming of the fairies that sleeps in the buds...”(4)
.Administering parental guidance while reading is hence of utmost importance. Children need to be taught to differentiate between reality and fantasy. Fantasy can explore areas of life that realist literature tends to deny or repress.
Fairy tales and other children’s stories play an important role in the acculturation of gender ideology. In an essay entitled,Some Day My PrinceWill Come: female acculturation through the fairy tale, Marcia Lieberman analysis the gender roles portrayed ina fairy tale:
“Among other things, these tales present a picture of sexual roles, behaviour, andpsychology, and a way of predicting outcome of fate according to sex, which is important because of the intense interest that children take in endings; they always want to know how things will turn out. A close examination of the treatment of the girls and women in fairy tales reveals certain patterns which are keenly interesting not only in themselves, but also as materials which has undoubtedly played a major contribution informing the sexual role concept of children, and in suggesting to them the limitations that are imposed by sex upon a person’s chances of success in various endeavours.”(5)
Marcia further analyses the kinds of behaviours associated with female characters in a range of fairystories. The protagonists are beautiful, passive and powerless while female characterswho are powerfulare mostly witches –ugly and ill tempered:
Being powerful is mainly associated with being unwomanly. The moral value of an activity thus becomes sex linked .The boy who sets out to seek his fortune, likeDick Whittington, Jack the giant killer or Espen Cinder land, is a stock figure and, provided he has a kind heart is assured of success. What is praise worthy in males,however,is rejected in females : the counterpart of the energetic aspiring boy is the scheming, ambitious women ...women who are powerful and good are never human: those women who are human ,and who have power of seekingit, are nearly always portrayed as repulsive .(6)
Cinderellain its western form has consistently been rewritten and analyzed since Perrault first published Cendrillon in France in 1697. Robert Samber first translated it into English in 1729. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm included it in Kinder- und Hausmarchen, the first edition of which was published in 1812, the last in 1857. The composer Gioachino Rossini turned it into the operaLa Cenerentola in 1817, Rodgers and Hammerstein into a musical theatre production, and it has been the subject of many films, most notably the 1950 Disney animated film Cinderella, a 1955 film The Glass Slipper starring Leslie Caron, and a 1960 gender change in Cinderfella, starring Jerry Lewis.
When we read the story Cinderella a number of questions stare back at us and they undoubtedly nudge at the young readers too:
Is a step mother always cruel? How can a father be indifferent towards his own daughter? Why is Cinderella always passive? Do all girls remain pre-occupied with and wait anxiously for their prince charming? Why do girls quarrel over a man? Is marriage the ultimate goal of a female? Should girls choose only rich men as their life partners?
Stories like Cinderella only serve to reinforce the sexiest values.Girls are made to believe that good women are powerless,passive,subordinate to men and valued for their bodies.
Jackson commented on the construction of fairy tales thus:
“As narrative forms, fairy tales function different from fantasies. They are neutral, impersonalised, sit apart from the readers. The reader becomes a passive receiver of events, there is no demand that the readers participate in their interpretation. Structurallytoo, fairy tales discourage belief in the importance of effectiveness of action for their narratives are closed. Things“happen”, “are done to’ protagonists, told to the reader, from a position of omniscience and authority, making the reader unquestionably passive.(7)
The story of Cinderella opens with the death of her mother. While on the deathbed, the mother asked her daughter to ‘remain pious and good, and then dear God will always protect you, and I will look down you from heavenand be near you.”While Cinderella remains faithful to the memory of her dead mother—she remains pious and good—her father married another woman within six months. Males in patriarchal society are not required to be pious and good always. If they are otherwise, they are still acceptable.
According to Rousseau, Dr. Gregory and Fordyce who re-echoed his doctrines in England,“women are so far inferior to men that their contribution to the comfort and pleasure of the latter is the solereason of their existence. For them virtue and duty have a realistic and not an absolute value. What they aim for is of no consequence. The essential point is what they seem to men. That they are human beings is lost sight of in the all engrossing fact that they are women.Rousseau further concluded: “A girl, condemned to sit for hours listening to idle chat of week nurses or to attend at her mother’s toilet, will, endeavour to join the conversation, is indeed very natural; and that she will imitate her mother and aunts, and amuse herself by adorning her lifeless dolls...”(8)
1. Mills, Claudia. 1943:A Narrative Compass: Stories That Guide Women's Lives,Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Volume 35, Number1, Spring 2010, pp. 99-101 (Review)
3.Agarwal, Deepa.IndianChildren’sLiterature: Howthe Past Is Eroding the Present: NFSC, Serial No. 21, April 2006.
4. Desai, Anita.Cry the Peacock, p.98, Orient Paperbacks, Delhi, 1980.
5. Francis, Anne Cranny. Feminist Fiction, p.85, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1990.
8.Craciun, C. (2002) A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", London: Routledge