The adult authorship of books for children is a practice that society has accepted willingly throughout the history of children’s literature. Most do not question whether the adult is misappropriating a child’s voice or perception; rather, people feel that every author should have the liberty to write a children’s book because he/she has experienced childhood. Furthermore, some would argue that the adult has an even better understanding of childhood than most children do because he/she is now beyond that stage and can therefore make more astute and objective observations. Only recently have we begun to ask whether an adult’s memory of “childhood” is valid or reliable.
In light of post-colonial criticism, we realize the danger of speaking for the “other”, whether it be another nationality, race or gender. Post-colonialism also recognizes the ability of a dominating group to exert its power over the “other” by using language. When the politics of children’s literature are compared with these ideas, the adult world may be the dominant culture while children, or “childhood” becomes the repressed “other”. Adults have constructed a concept of childhood that casts it as a world apart from reality; it is a separate period and place that each person must endure to reach adulthood, the supposed goal. Children are then merely incomplete, or perhaps even primitive, models of adults. Much like other colonized cultures in our world, children suffer hegemonic containment and control by another group.
The colonization of children is evident because the child’s experience is governed by people who no longer belong to that world. This colonization becomes even clearer when we look at the advent of established children’s literature. In the 18th century, children were viewed as deficient; therefore, they had to be educated and molded into civilized adults. Thus we have the beginnings of a literature written specifically to instruct children. In stories, they were told how to behave properly and taught to obey the commands of adults; the apparent success of these tales in instructing children also evolved into a general respect for the authority of books. In recent years, most children’s books have not explicitly propagated behavioral instruction, yet they continue to affect the how children behave. The modern child reader is still influenced by adults through children’s literature.
I will mention three points to support my claim.
First, children’s literature sentimentalizes childhood. The subtlest attempt by adults to control children through discourse is found in adult descriptions of childhood. There is a sentimental element in the way we view the past; it often seems simpler and more innocent. The times we spent as children are thus depicted as quaint and carefree. We imagine that our summer days were whimsical. This experience is a fantastical construction of an idyllic childhood. The adult poet has created a paradigm for childhood summers that may or may not be valid. This sentimental view of childhood could cause conflict in the child who does not share the experience, who is not carefree.
Second, children are presented as ignorant and powerless. Sentimental memories of childhood may lead to the sentimentalization of children in general. Thus, the adult author may present children as simple, innocent and even ignorant. This kind of depiction, while charming, incapacitates the child. It undermines any attempts of the child to gain authority or respect. Authors often portray the child mis-using or mis-understanding language, which is a supposed measure of intelligence. Pooh, who plays the role of the child in Winnie-the-Pooh, for instance, can never seem to master words or their meanings.
Children are thus often characterized to be unreliable sources of information. In depicting sentimental views of children, the adult author gives them invisible boundaries, suggesting that they are limited in thought and expression. Therefore, the child is rendered harmless and ineffectual.
The third and the conclusion part will be explained next issue.